For Jerid Fisher ’75, pinning down the “whydunnit” is as important as figuring out the “whodunnit.”
A forensic neuropsychologist with three decades of experience, Fisher has spent his career exploring the link between cognition, behavior, and brain damage and, most recently, the underlying reasons why people commit seemingly inexplicable crimes. His latest book, “Upside Down,” examines what drove a mild-mannered professor to murder his wife.
Fisher’s combined interests in understanding the brain and writing were sparked and nurtured at Duke, where he majored in psychology. “Of my various lifelong educational experiences, my years at Duke were the most meaningful to me,” Fisher says. “They shaped many of my intellectual and personal goals—and ultimately the man I became.”
As a way to give back and encourage students to pursue the brain sciences regardless of cost, Fisher established a bequest of $1 million to provide financial aid for undergraduates interested in psychology and the neurosciences.
Here are three questions for Fisher:
Tell us more about what inspired you to make your gift?
My mother, Dr. Rhoda Fisher, held Duke University in high esteem. Our family visited Durham when I was in the ninth grade, and she made a point of encouraging me to work hard so that I could get into Duke. This resonated with me and helped chart my future.
My undergraduate years at Duke were extremely important because they were filled with incredibly rich opportunities, from the best professors and a diverse student body to a beautiful library and the Duke Marine Lab, where I spent a summer at sea. All represented cornerstones for my enrichment as a young man and opened doors of awareness for me that I otherwise would not have known.
In your opinion, what are some of Duke’s most significant recent contributions to psychology and/or neuropsychology, and how do they tie into your gift?
An important scientific interest of mine is impaired human cognition and judgment with particular emphasis on the orbitofrontal cortex. Damage to this brain region, which modulates more basic reptilian drives, may interfere with a person’s capacity to conform his or her behaviors to the requirements of the law. I’ve applied these brain behavior constructs to my work as a forensic neuropsychological expert. Consequently, I am very supportive of basic clinical research—especially at Duke—that links heuristic brain damage models to a better understanding of real-life behaviors.
Duke has recently begun offering a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience that combines psychology and biology. This program wasn’t available 40 years ago when I was a student, but now it is an established major at the university. It’s a testament to not only the growing prominence of the field but also to Duke’s commitment to meeting student needs and service to society.
Has there been anything in particular about the Duke Forward campaign that resonates with you?
The greatest gift that we as mentors and benefactors can bestow on future generations is sharing our knowledge and experience. My past, present, and future gifts to Duke are motivated by the goal of minimizing the financial barriers that might prevent potential students from having access to these opportunities.