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Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki: Professor, Neural Science and Psychology; Center for Neural Science, New York University


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2014/09/22


An in-depth interview with Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki, New York University, of the Center for Neural Science, Professor in the department of neural science and psychology.  She discusses the following: educational background and major positions; seminal youth experience influencing career trajectory, freshman experience at University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Maryanne Diamond, GoogleUniversity; ‘clicking’ with a teacher; original dream in her life; major areas of past and present research; hypothetical research; various paces of exercise for memory enhancement; controversial research topics; relation to some other health research such as research on life-extension with Rhodiola Rosea, and caloric restriction; philosophical foundations; robust short-term changes in neural architecture for long-term benefits, Susanne M. Jaeggi et al from 2008, 2009, and 2012 based on a ‘dual n’ back’ task, and the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM, Non-verbal intelligence test); advice for young psychologists; and the responsibility of scientists to society.

Keywords:  Controversial, David Amaral, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Dr. Mahtab Jafari,Dr. Maryanne Diamond, Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Eric Kandel, exercise, GoogleUniversity, Hippocampus, Larry Squire, Long-Term Memory, Los Angeles, National Institutes of Health, Neural Science, neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, Neuroscience, New York, New York University, psychology, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, Rhodiola Rosea, Scientists, Society, Stuart Zola, Susanne M. Jaeggi,University of California.

1. What is your current position? What major positions have you held in your academic career?

I am a professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University (NYU).  This is my first and only academic position that I got, which was after my Post-Doc.

2. Can you name a seminal experience in your youth that most influenced your career direction?

The most seminal experience was a class, which I took as a freshman at University of California, Berkeley.  It was a freshman seminar.  A small number of freshman with an expert in her field.  She was a neuroanatomist.  Dr. Maryanne Diamond, her speciality was on neuroplasticity and the experience of an enriched environment on brain plasticity.  That made me want to become a neuroscientist, and I became a neuroscientist.  At present, she is emeritus there.  Her presentations on GoogleUniversity are number 1 or 2.  She teaches biology.  She has an amazing gift to make, even boring subjects such as gross human anatomy, which is a lot of memorization of different structures and she made it fascinating.

3. That’s a common experience. Once a student ‘clicks’ with a professor, especially in terms of teaching style, they tend to keep going to them.

Yes, exactly!

4. Where did you acquire your education?

I got a BA at University California, Los Angeles, Ph.D. at University California, San Diego, a Post-Doc at National Institutes of Health, and my current faculty position at NYU.

5. What was your original dream?

I wanted to do something in science.  I did not know exactly what, but I wanted to get tenure as a neuroscientist to design my own experiments and run my own research lab. That was my original dream.

6. What have been your major areas of research?

My major areas of research are parts of the brain that are important for long-term memory formation such as the hippocampus and related structures.  I began this research at the start of my career in graduate school.  However, I have branched off recently to study humans because all of the work in long-term memory systems have been with animal model systems.  More recently, I have begun a new area of my research lab dealing with the effects of aerobic exercise in and examining, in particular, humans.

7. Does this mean short, fast or long, slow exercise?

We look at both.  We look at the effects of acute exercise by going to the gym for an hour.  What can that do to your cognition?  How long does that last?  Mainly, I am interested in the long-term effects of the changes in fitness to your long-term cognitive abilities.  How does long-term exercise change your cognitive abilities?  I want to see the way this can be incorporated into a university of school program.

I have two newest areas of research: one of exercise (last four or five years) and how time is represented in your memory.

This happens before the consolidation process.  I focus on the following: during encoding of an episode, how is time represented in these areas that are important for memory?  Consolidation is after you encode it, including all of the temporal stuff, how do you retain it?

8. If you had unlimited funding and unrestricted freedom, what research would you conduct?

I am fascinated by exercise.  I would find a way to combine my experimental work in long-term memory systems with my human work in the effects of exercise on long-term memory.  I would want to leverage my understanding of long-term memory systems to make it better.  Exercise enhances neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a structure critical to long-term memory formation.  I want to understand: how does that happen? How much exercise you need to happen best?  What kind of tasks are more effective at it?  And what does that mean in your everyday life? If I had unlimited funding, I would throw all of my funding at that.  Plus, I would get it implemented into schools or in patient populations where it could be helpful, which is what I am doing now.  But I do not have the funding!  That is the goal.

9. Much research exists on caloric restriction providing benefits to many signs of aging related to preliminary non-human animal models of life-extension research. In particular, Dr. Mahtab Jafari, she worked with Rhodiola Rosea in terms of extending the general lifespan of Drosophila.   However, this comes from many fronts, which includes mental health by slowing cognitive aging in other ways such as exercise.

Absolutely, that is one of the goals.  What kind of exercise is the most effective?  In that, is it running, kickboxing, weight training, and so on?  What in that form of exercise?  And how much of it?  In turn, what is improved?  Is it a frontal lobe attention-focusing task?  There is probably a large proportion of studies on humans showing the improvement in the ability to focus your attention.  There have been some good research on positive long-term improvement of memory.  I want to improve memory.  I want to improve my own memory.  What are the optimal practical implications of exercise on memory?  It is related to attention because you cannot attain better memory without attention.  So if you can attain better attention along with memory, I want that too.

10. What is your philosophical foundation? How did it change over time to the present?

I think, if you can call it a philosophy, I am a firm believer in the idea that brain is very flexible and plastic.  Lots of things can influence it.  Both for the good and for the bad.  My whole scientific career has been based on trying to understand that principle.  I do not know if this is necessarily a principle or a philosophy.  I think there is a lot of potential for change and to grow.  The brain has an enormous amount of potential to change and to grow.  I want to explore those possibilities and the way to harness it for the betterment of mankind.

11. Lots of recent research, which you probably know better than me, about robust short-term changes in neural architecture for long-term benefits.

Yes, it is pretty amazing.

12. Three papers, which turned some findings on their head, came from Susanne M. Jaeggi et al from 2008, 2009, and subsequently in 2012 based on a ‘dual n’ back’ task. People were given the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM, Non-verbal intelligence test), trained them for up to 19 days on the ‘dual n’ back’ task at increasing difficulty, and then gave them the RPM. They found an increase in fluid intelligence in a short amount of time, which lasted for at least a couple months after the training.

That’s fascinating.  I am interested in plasticity.

13. What do you consider the controversial topics in your field? How do you examine the controversial topics?

(Laughs) What are the non-controversial topics?  There are many, many controversial topics in memory including the things talked about: consolidation.  There are many difference theories about consolidation.  What is it?  How does it work?  There is a huge controversy in the boundary between memory and perception, and how you define it.  What is the appropriate way to define a perceptual function versus a memory function?  You would think this would be very straightforward, but when you get into difficult perceptual tasks.  There are so many elements that you have to compare.  You need a good working memory.  We are arguing over: is it pure perception?  Is it memory?  Or is it both?  There is big debate over that.  Those are the ones that I deal with the most.  How do you deal with them?  You need to do a lot of reading and try to keep an open mind, and try not to get into one camp.  I never had the urge to write an opinion piece before about five years ago, when I got tired of this perception versus memory debate.  I went to a journal editor and said, “Why don’t I write a memory piece?”  She said, “Why don’t we do a point-counterpoint?”  I said, “No, I do not want to do that, just let me write the piece.” (Laughs) No, I didn’t actually say that.  I said, “I’d love to do point-counterpoint.” (Laughs) I ended up doing it with someone I got along with, and it was a really informative and educational process to try and address a controversy fairly from one side knowing someone else is doing another side.  Then, we did a wrap-it-up piece together.  Obviously, we had to get along and have enough respect for each other’s views to be able to get through that project.  Now, we are working together on some projects, not this, but other ones.  The funny thing is, the editor was interested in doing a point-counterpoint because she had tried to do a great point-counterpoint, but people found it too emotionally charged.  I think that is probably the cause of the duration of these controversies: stubbornness on these scientists.  If they were more interested in engaging through point-counterpoint in the general public, within the form of scientific journals, rather than doing my first reaction such as ‘let me just write my piece’.

14. What do some in opposition to you argue? How do you respond?

It depends on the format.  In written word or a talk-situation – kind of a debate, I think one of the things that differentiates the different views is how much credit, or weight, you give different pieces of evidence.  All controversies have a whole bunch of studies that are more or less related to it.  Lots of people have different opinions on how they buy into certain findings over other findings.  I think my response is to try and explain both my theoretical and the strongest evidence – that I think – is there to back it up.  Whether experimental design or the results were significant.  For example, something well-designed enough to not make another possible interpretation for this experiment the best one.  I guess, the underlying hypothesis in my mind and the rank-order of the data, and, of course, I need to explain why data they might bring up is not that relevant.

15. What advice do you have for young psychologists?

I would say, “Make sure you are truly fascinated with psychology and that can be a driving force for many years of hard work, which you will have to do.”  To any young scientist, “be curious, be bold in jumping in conversations and debates.”  They are good experiences.  Do not be sitting there with the ‘big whigs’ figuring things out.  Become good at expressing your own views in some form, e.g. through talks or the written word.  I think the thing I see in my most successful colleagues is this innate fascination.  You need to make sure this a driver for you because it is hard to work for the funding.  The competition in science is strong.  It could become overwhelming.  It does become overwhelming for many students unless they are so fascinated with the topic.  Only they can decide that.

16. Whom do you consider your biggest influences? Could you recommend any seminal or important books/articles by them?

My major influences are my three dissertation advisors.  One of them was Larry Squire.  He and Eric Kandel have a really good book for neuroscientists and non-neuroscientists called Memory: From Minds to Molecules.  It was a Scientific American publication.  It lays out the whole range of the field of memory very nicely.  Stuart Zola, who was also one of my thesis advisors, a fantastic psychologist, scientist, and neuroscientist.  As well as David Amaral, a neuro-anatomist, who taught me great anatomical techniques and let me feel like an artist in a way.  I felt like an art critic while looking into a microscope and working with these various brain areas in monkeys during my thesis studying.  I will always be grateful for that.  People that influence you formative times of your career.  Those influences are long-lasting.  I would say those three teachers.  They were my greatest influences.

17. In an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus from In-Sight Issue 2.A, I quote an acceptance speech for an award from the AAAS for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. In it, she said, “We live in perilous times for science…and in order for scientists to preserve their freedoms they have a responsibility…to bring our science to the public arena and to speak out as forcefully as we can against even the most cherished beliefs that reflect unsubstantiated myths.” How important do you see criticizing ‘unsubstantiated myths’ in ‘perilous times’ for science?

“Criticizing ‘unsubstantiated myths’”, I would say, I agree with the statement to the point about scientists needing to speak out into the public.  Whether they battle myths or simply educate, in fact, I consider that more important to get to the general public out there.  So they know what a scientist does, even if it is the most esoteric things about something in fly brains because they get funding – if they are lucky enough to get funding.  To hone that message in a very, very clear way to let the public understand the importance of our work.  I think battling unsubstantiated myths is a subset of that, but I consider the most important part of that is the reason I am so fascinated with memory.  What happens if you lose your memory? How might my research help you?  How might devastating might that be to you?  Some people, and scientists included, do not always understand the importance of the work that we do.  More important is the public’s ability to know this and ultimately support the scientific effort with knowledge, full knowledge.


  1. [nyusuns] (2014, March 8). SUNS Interview with Dr. Wendy Suzuki. Retrieved from
  2. [UVAGTTP] (2012, October 10). Wendy Suzuki Inspiration. Retrieved from
  3. TEDx [Tedx talks] (2011, December 1). TEDxOrlando – Wendy Suzuki – Exercise and the Brain. Retrieved from
  4. TEDx [Tedx talks] (2014, March 2014). Wendy Suzuki at TEdxNYU 2013. Retrieved from
  5. Buckmaster CA, Eichenbaum H, Amaral DG, Suzuki WA, Rapp PR (2004) “Entorhinal cortex lesions disrupt the relational organization of memory in monkeys,” J Neurosci 24, 9811– 9825
  6. Czanner G, Eden UT, Wirth S, Yanike M, Suzuki WA, Brown EN (2008) “Analysis of between and within-trial neural spiking dynamics,” J Neurophys 99, 2672–2693
  7. Hargreaves EL, Mattfeld AT, Stark CE, Suzuki WA (2012) “Conserved fMRI and LFP signals during new associative learning in the human and macaque monkey medial temporal lobe,” Neuron 74: 743–752
  8. Jaeggi, S. M., Buschkuehl, M., Jonides, J., & Perrig, W. J. (2008). Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(19), 6829-6833.
  9. Jaeggi, S. M., Berman, M. G., & Jonides, J. (2009). Training attentional processes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(5), 191-192.
  10. Lavenex P, Suzuki WA, Amaral DG (2004) “Intrinsic perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices of the macaque monkey: Intrinsic projections and interconnections,” J Comp Neurol 472, 371–394
  11. Lavenex P, Suzuki WA, Amaral DG (2002) “Perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices of the macaque monkey: Projections to the neocortex,” J Comp Neurol 447, 394–420
  12. Law JR, Flanery MA, Wirth S, Yanike M, Smith AC, Frank LM, Suzuki WA, Brown EN, Stark CEL (2005) “fMRI activity during the gradual acquisition and expression of paired associate memory,” J Neurosci 25, 5720–5729
  13. Lee YSC, Ashman T, Shang A, Suzuki WA (2014) “Brief report: Effects of exercise and self-affirmation intervention after traumatic brain injury,” Neurorehab, In press
  14. Loosli, S. V., Buschkuehl, M., Perrig, W. J., & Jaeggi, S. M. (2012). Working memory training improves reading processes in typically developing children. Child Neuropsychology, 18(1), 62-78
  15. Naya Y, Suzuki WA (2011) “Integrating what and when across the primate medial temporal lobe,” Science 333(6043): 773–776
  16. Paxton R, Basile BM, Adachi I, Suzuki WA, Wilson ME, Hampton RR (2010) “Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) rapidly learn to select dominant individuals in videos of artificial social interactions between unfamiliar conspecifics,” J Comp Psychol 124: 395–401
  17. Prerau MJ, Smith AC, Eden UT, Yanike M, Suzuki WA, Brown EN (2008) “A mixed filter algorithm for cognitive state estimation from simultaneously recorded continuous and binary measures of performance,” Biol Cybernetics 99:1–14
  18. Prerau MJ, Smith AC, Eden UT, Kubota Y, Yanike M, Suzuki WA, Graybiel AM, Brown EN (2009) “Characterizing learning by simultaneous analysis of continuous and binary measures of performance,” J Neurophysiol 102, 3060–3072
  19. Smith AC, Frank LM, Wirth S, Yanike M, Hu D, Kubota,Y, Graybiel AM, Suzuki WA, Brown EN (2004) “Dynamic analysis of learning in behavioral experiments,” J Neurosci 24, 447–461
  20. Smith AC, Scalon JD, Wirth S, Yanike M, Suzuki WA, Brown EN (2010) “State space algorithms for estimating spike rate functions,” Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience 2010, 1–14
  21. Smith AC, Wirth S, Suzuki WA, Brown EN (2007) “Baysian analysis of interleaved learning and response bias in behavioral experiments,” J Neurophys 97, 2516–2524
  22. Suzuki, WA (2010) “Untangling memory from perception in the medial temporal lobe,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14:195–200
  23. Suzuki, WA (2009) “Perception and the medial temporal lobe: Evaluating the current evidence,” Neuron 61, 657–666
  24. Suzuki, WA, Amaral DG (2003) “The perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices of the macaque monkey: Cytoarchitectonic and chemoarchitectonic organization,” J Comp Neurol 463, 67–91
  25. Suzuki WA, Baxter MG (2009) “Memory, perception and the medial temporal lobe: A synthesis of opinions,” Neuron. 61, 678–679
  26. Suzuki WA, Miller EK, Desimone R (1997) “Object and place memory in the macaque entorhinal cortex,” J Neurophys 78, 1062–1081
  27. Suzuki WA, Porteros A (2002) “Distribution of calbindin D-28k in the entorhinal, perirhinal and parahippocampal cortices of the macaque monkey,” J Comp Neurol 451, 392–412
  28. The Science Network (n.d.). Wendy Suzuki: New York University. Retrieved from
  29. Wirth S, Avsar E, Chiu CC, Sharma V, Smith AC, Brown EN, Suzuki WA (2009) “Trial outcome and associative learning signals in the monkey hippocampus,” Neuron. 61, 930–940
  30. Wirth S, Yanike M., Frank LM, Smith AC, Brown EN, Suzuki WA (2003) “Single neurons in the monkey hippocampus and learning of new associations,” Science 300, 1578–1581
  31. Yanike M, Wirth S, Smith AC, Brown EN, Suzuki WA (2009) “Comparison of associative learning-related signals in the macaque perirhinal cortex and hippocampus,” Cerebral Cortex 19, 1064–1078
  32. Yanike M, Wirth S, Suzuki WA (2004) “Representation of well-learned information in the monkey hippocampus,,” Neuron 42, 477–487


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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