The Einstein lab studies brain and behaviour in the context of other body systems and in the context of people’s lives. Our work is informed by the following key concepts and approaches.
Sex and Gender
Sex and gender are key factors that influence health and affect how the nervous system works. Sex is defined as the genes, hormones, and phenotype (what one looks like) that result from having two X chromosomes (XX) or an X and a Y chromosome (XY). Gender refers to socially prescribed and experienced dimensions of “femaleness” [XX] or “maleness” [XY] in a given society, manifested at many levels. (Johnson et al., 2007). It is extremely difficult to separate sex from gender, because each influences the other. As in the Rubin Vase shown here, sometimes sex is at the forefront of what we observe, while gender is at the forefront at other times. For the purposes of a scientific study it is important to separate sex and gender, and to study them using different methods. Ultimately, however, the two elements fuse to create diverse brains and unique cognitive responses.
“The world writes on the body”
The brain is not independent of the world in which it lives. This fact is essential to understanding cognitive or brain function. For example, in studying women who have had oophorectomies we must also consider other factors that affect neuronal circuitry and cognitive performance, such as stress from a busy life. Similarly, level of education, socio-economic status, and other experiences can influence changes in gene expression and hormone secretions. These external forces can all affect neuronal circuitry and cognitive performance.
The brain is affected both by the methods by which it is studied and its interactions with the people studying it. Thus, when studying the brain, it is critical to take into account the situation under which the study occurs. “Situated Neuroscience” is a term we have applied to the contextualizing of the study and participants. It is based on an important science studies concept, “Situated Knowledges”, which proposes that rigorous science requires situating the participant, the researcher, and the methods of a given study.
Whole body approach
The brain does not function independently of other body systems (e.g., immune, cardiovascular, endocrine systems). Surgeries at one site of the body (e.g., oophorectomies) affect the brain. Changes in the endocrine and immune systems (and others) also affect brain health. For example, the immune system is affected by loss of sex hormones. This in turn leads to inflammation in the brain, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. While medical action might be necessary to cure or prevent a medical condition unrelated to the brain, a full understanding of health outcomes require investigating how the whole body – especially the brain – becomes affected.
Using a mix of approaches from different academic and intellectual disciplines allow researchers to more effectively study both the biological and social aspects of health. This is called multidisciplinarity. While we can’t take every life situation and body system into account when studying the brain, we can use a sampling of well-defined approaches to gain a more complete perspective. Our research draws from different disciplinary approaches – most rooted in cognitive neuroscience, as well as others rooted in the social sciences and humanities – in order to obtain a fuller understanding of brain health.
“Very Mixed Methods” (VMM)
Multidisciplinary approaches require using multiple methodologies and approaches. Often researchers will use what is called “Mixed Methods”, which includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches. However, mixed methods typically favour quantitative methods over qualitative ones. As well, mixed methods approaches rarely include physiological methods, such as taking heart rate or measuring pain thresholds. VMM uses qualitative, quantitative, and physiological approaches to understand more fully how a person feels about their condition, what standard tests reveal about their condition, and how the brain responds to the condition. We believe that having all three of these perspectives represented equally provides a unique view on brain health.
 Einstein, G. (2012) Situated Neuroscience: Elucidating a Biology of Diversity. in: Bluhm, R., Maibom, H., & Jacobson, A.J. (Eds). Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 145–174.Bluhm, R., Maibom, H., & Jacobson, A.J. (Eds). Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science, New York: Palgrave McMillan, 145–174.
 Haraway (1988) Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3): 575-599.
 To read more:
Einstein, G. (2008) From body to brain: considering the neurobiological effects of female genital cutting. Perspectives in Biology & Medicine. 51: 84–97.
Einstein, G. et al., (2012) The gendered ovary: whole body effects of oophorectomy. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research. 44: 7–17.
Au, A. et al., (2016). Estrogens, Inflammation and Cognition. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 40: 87-100.
 Einstein, G. (2012) op cit.