If it is up to Jessica Black, the integration of neuroscience research into social work will enrich our understanding of the interplay of nature and culture


Jessica Black pursued higher education in hopes of preparing a next generation of collegians to make a difference in the world. This is a major reason she redirected her own course of study away from the natural sciences and towards social work, to prepare students to build careers in practice, policy, and research that have the potential to enhance biopsychosocial life course development.

But while her motivation for getting into the field of social work higher education might ring familiar, her point of entry is new: Black is a Stanford-trained educational neuroscientist whose strengths-based approach to research integrates neuroimaging with methods that are more traditional to the social sciences. In one project of note, Black and colleagues are using neuroimaging to better understand the neural underpinnings of humor in children, and the extent to which humor and positive emotion might contribute to their resilience. The hope is that, by better understanding the brain data, researchers can develop improved methodologies for detecting and treating certain psychological behaviors and conditions in children.

For Black, this project is just one example of how the brain can inform cutting-edge social science research and the innovative interventions that come out of creative inquiry. “While we’re not training social workers to be neuroscientists at BC Social Work,” she says, “we can encourage an integrative learning environment to help our students benefit from the natural synergies that exist between these two fields. The possibilities for collaboration are limitless.”

Neuroscience Symposium

This fall, BCSSW will host its inaugural Intersections Symposium, a first-of-its-kind academic meeting bringing together scholars from neuroscience and social work to initiate conversations across fields, and inspire ideas for scholarly collaboration.