Wonders of the Mind

Kumiko Nakajima is a sophomore at DePauw University. She is dedicated to academics and takes on many projects at DePauw. I interviewed her to know more about her interests and what motivates her.


HerCampus: Where are you from?

Kumi: I’m from Osaka, which is one of the largest and most lively but casual cities in Japan.


HC: What is your major?

Kumi: I created my interdisciplinary major in cognitive science, including psychology, neuroscience and computer science, and philosophy. This is basically the study of intelligence and the mind, and I believe thinking consciously about our own intelligence is one of the coolest things we could do. It challenges the limitation of our own thinking and knowing, and it is so difficult because it is recursive and meta. The topics relate to what it means to be a human and what are possibilities and limitations of intelligence, which have fascinated me for a long time. If we could decipher how we think, we would be able to figure out what kind of problem we could think/solve and how we could extend our intelligence.


HC: Favorite class so far?

Kumi: I would say Human Nature, one of the three-hundred level honor classes at DePauw. We learned the basics of evolutionary psychology and discussed issues such as general application or understanding of science, sex difference, violence, motherhood, health, morality, religions from that perspective. I like this class because it covered a wide range of topics but also gave me deep insights and meanings of human behaviors. For the final paper, I did research about adaptive reasons for depressive mood. I have learned depression mainly from neuroscience perspectives, but this class allowed me to find that the depressive mechanism might be deeply rooted in the hierarchical system of the brain and our energy regulation system and sensitivity to social exclusion. 


HC: Your research interest?

Kumi: I would like to do research tapping on the human’s high-order cognition. I presented the research related to inductive learning at the psychological convention last summer, and now I’m doing an independent research project on the neural signature of creativity and abstraction this year, which I hope to present at a neuroscience society. My long-term research interests are the core of human intelligence/complex thinking, combined with other disciplines such as philosophy of mind/phenomenology. The program at the University of Pennsylvania I participated in last summer allowed me to realize the importance of diverse approaches to capture the complexity, diversity, dynamism, and multidimensionality of cognition.


HC: Hardships you’ve overcome?

Kumi: The most difficult time for me was high school. I worked too hard and got burnout. I didn’t do well socially either. I was too exhausted to get out of the bed for a month and suffered from fatigue for a few years. It was also when I first got the onset of recurrent depression. I stayed at home all day and slept during the day, feeling despair. It was impossible to continue school. What was the toughest was realizing I was so isolated, and I was the only one who could really fix my life. I’ve had a mix of depression and social anxiety. I didn’t seek treatment until last year, but I'm currently on the way to recover from depression.

But while going to a part-time high school, I came to teach myself by reading books and using internet resources. I kept practicing English and ended up studying in the US. I finally came to realize that my mood has caused the problems and not because of my personality deficits. Studying evolutionary psychology made me realize depression might be the problem of prediction errors, causing the self-perpetuating loop that my brain becomes more sensitive to clues of social rejection, which biased negatively my model/expectations of the world, which further affects my perspectives and confidence and voluntary actions. This is a mental disorder because it doesn’t accurately reflect the reality. 

It’s been almost five years, and I came to realize that the whole experience fostered my resilience and compassion, not only my interest in mind and intelligence. I’ve been cultivating my skills to become emotionally vulnerable and connect to others. Last year was especially rough because of illnesses of loved ones. But my faith in hoping and making practical actions for a better future helped me get through the tough times. The better future is a conscious decision and effort for me. I always want to be there for others as my career or outside of my job. 


HC: Goals— career, personal etc? 

Kumi: It has been my goal since grade school to be a researcher, and I wish to proceed to a grad school in cognitive science or clinical/counseling psychology after college. I might want to study philosophy in depth by myself. It would be really cool if I could get a chance to write a book about the insights of the mind in my career. I want to do important work in my life.