A mental health discovery that could change criminal justice forever

Kim Gorgens Headshot

Dr. Kim Gorgens is a professor of Psychophysiology, Clinical Neuropsychology, and Psychology of Criminal Behavior at the University of Denver. She manages a portfolio of brain injury-related research—studying the reported history, cognitive function and brain biomarkers of probationers, inmates, and college athletes. Her mission is to better understand the short and long-term impacts of injuring our most vital organ. She has a fridge filled with human brains and a love of zombie movies (coincidence?). Simply put, Kim cares more about your brain than you do.

Every TED talk that points out how little we know about the brain… My 2010 TEDx talk on sports concussion highlighted what we don’t know about the consequences of hitting your helmeted head thousands of times–8 years later, we still can’t agree. Heribert Watzke’s talk about the brain in our gut was a game-changer–turns out we can’t even agree WHERE the brain IS. And Jill Bolte-Taylor’s seminal talk reminded us that HAVING a brain is a pretty curious but special thing too.

What sparks your curiosity?

I wonder what it would take to better serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us; the people we cast aside and ultimately incarcerated. I wonder if there are better ways to invest our dollars in their care—investments that could reduce costs and suffer over time. I wonder what shifting our view of behavior from “won’t” to “can’t” could accomplish. Could punishment be toppled with rehabilitation in its place?

What is the most uncommon experience, practice, belief, viewpoint, or habit that you have, and how has that shaped you as a person?

I am a scientist and a psychologist but I am truly plagued by neurosis. From superstition to paralyzing indecision, I am the ‘worst-case scenario’ in my fields of study. I can’t say it has ‘improved’ my work but it certainly makes me more sympathetic to all manner of catastrophic circumstances. I am great in a crisis largely because I have already imagined that outcome a thousand times. In fact, I was a pretty great paramedic for that very reason.

Hobbies / Passions / Fun Facts

I have a fridge filled with human brains (in a lab…but still, I imagine this is what I have in common with zombies and serial killers). Speaking of which, I have seen and read every last bit of zombie film and fiction–I cannot get enough (RIP George Romero). And I *hate* cooked vegetables—I literally haven’t eaten a single one since the final standoff with uneaten peas at my childhood kitchen table.

Twitter: @bubblewrapbrain

LinkedIn: Kim Gorgens