Essential Pittsburgh
2:33 pm
Mon October 28, 2013

A Passion For Brains

Credit Flickr

Since the classic George Romero zombie film “Night of the Living Dead” grew in popularity, Pittsburgh has been a zombie town.

The 1968 horror flick was filmed just 30 miles from the city in Butler County, something many Pittsburgh zombie fans take pride in.

For Timothy Verstynen, assistant professor in psychology at CMU and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, zombies are both a fascination and more interestingly, a teaching tool.

“We’re essentially trying to get people interested in the topic of the brain and think a little bit deeper than they normally would. The brain is really cool but it doesn’t have the same pull as say...zombies,” says Verstynen

Verstynen and collaborator Bradley Voytek, who is based in California are taking images of healthy human brains and using a computer to digitally atrophy certain parts of the brain image to show potential zombie behavior. A zombie’s poor memory and lack of speech might be due to lesions in the hippocampus area of the brain. Through this type of analysis, they are teaching students how to characterize certain behaviors such as a lumbering gait and link it to disruptions in brain function.

As metaphorical zombie behavior expert, Verstynen offers some survival advice in the off chance of a zombie apocalypse: take cover because the zombie will likely forget about you due to poor memory retention, distract them with things such as fireworks and firecrackers and above all things do not try to be nice to them.

“You can remove the thorn from the zombie’s hand," says Verstynen "But they’ll still eat your brain.”