I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Psychological & Brain Sciences department at Johns Hopkins University.  I work with Janice Chen and Christopher Honey. I like to spend my time thinking about how we learn and remember, and why we get lost in stories.

big questions

I am curious about what it means to understand something deeply.


How is deep understanding different from memorizing information?

How can we promote deep understanding? What changes in our brain as we achieve it?

Why do we understand stories more readily than other kinds of information?


And what might all of this tell us about the organizing principles of the human mind?


stories change how we think

Stories seem to have a lasting influence on how we think. How do we measure this influence?  What are its consequences? In this line of work, I examine how stories can shape our spontaneous thoughts even after they end, using techniques from natural language processing like word embeddings. [talk]

measuring dynamic situation models

We rely on situation models - abstract representations of how specific events tend to unfold - to help understand the world around us. In this line of work, I use techniques from natural language processing to generate a dynamic measure of situation model strength (i.e., inter-subject prediction similarity) during movie-viewing to predict memory and brain activity. [conference paper]

prior knowledge promotes detail-rich memories

If we know a lot about something, will our memory for a specific instance of seeing that thing be richer in detail? Here, I use naturalistic stimuli (e.g., famous faces, popular brands) to test how prior knowledge affects the quality of our memories. [preprint]

hippocampus and memory

The hippocampus, a brain structure tucked deep into our medial temporal lobe, is involved in our ability to remember past events. But, are all parts of the hippocampus equal? Here, we are examining the possibility that different aspects of the hippocampus (anterior vs. posterior)  preferentially represent gist-like vs detailed information. [paper]

default mode network

The default mode network, a set of functionally coupled brain regions, plays an important role in a variety of contexts, including: remembering, future imagining, story comprehension, mentalizing, and mind-wandering, among others. Could these regions be ideally situated in the brain to represent our internal models of the external environment [paper] [commentary]

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The cognitive neuroscience of stories

We are constantly surrounded by stories. Could the central role that stories play in human culture shed some light onto the inner workings of our minds and brains? I developed and taught an introductory  course exploring how stories are used in cognitive neuroscience. [syllabus] [slides]

Science communication

I strongly believe in the importance of taking science out of the laboratory and into the community. To that end, I've given introductory lectures on "cognitive neuroscience" to a wide variety of audiences. I'm also very interested in applying  concepts from service-learning to psychology and neuroscience.



Bellana, B., Ladyka-Wojcik, N., Lahan, S., Moscovitch, M. & Grady, C.L. (2019). Activity in the left angular tracks both recollection and prior knowledge during recognition. [link]


Bellana, B., Mansour, R.,  Ladyka-Wojcik, N., Grady, C.L. & Moscovitch, M. (2021). The influence of prior knowledge on the formation of detailed and durable memories. [pdf]

Lee, H., Bellana, B., & Chen, J. (2020). What can narratives tell us about the neural bases of human memory? Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 32, 111-119. [pdf]

Ramanan, S. & Bellana, B. (2019, commentary). A domain general role for the angular gyrus in retrieving internal representations of the external world. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(16), 2978-2980. [pdf]

Brunec, I.K.*, Bellana, B.*, Ozubko, J.D., Man, V., Robin, J., Liu, Z-X., Grady, C.L., Rosenbaum, R.S., Winocur, G., Barense, M.D. & Moscovitch, M. (2018). Multiple scales of representation along the hippocampal anteroposterior axis in humans. Current Biology, 28(13), 2129-2135.e6  [pdf]

*Equal contributions

Anderson, J.A.E., Chung-Fat-Yim, A., Bellana, B., Luk, G. & Bialystok, E. (2018). Language and cognitive control networks in bilinguals and monolinguals. Neuropsychologia, 117, 351-363. [link]

Bellana, B.*, Liu, Z-X.*, Diamond, N., Grady, C.L. & Moscovitch, M. (2017). Similarities and differences in the default mode network across rest, retrieval and future imagining. Human Brain Mapping, 38(3): 1155-1171. [pdf]

*Equal contributions

Anderson, J.A.E., Sarraf, S., Amer, T., Bellana, B., Man, V., Campbell, K.L., Hasher, L. &
Grady, C.L. (2017). Task-linked diurnal brain network reorganization in older adults: A graph theoretical approach. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(3), 560-572. [link]

Bellana, B., Liu, Z., Anderson, J.A.E., Moscovitch, M. & Grady, C.L. (2016). Laterality effects in functional connectivity of the angular gyrus during rest and episodic retrieval. Neuropsychologia, 80(8): 24-34. [pdf]

Greenberg, A., Bellana, B. & Bialystok, E. (2013). Perspective-taking ability in bilingual children: Extending advantages in executive control to spatial reasoning. Cognitive Development, 28(1): 41-50. [pdf]


[Under construction!]

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cool things (from the internet)

Scholars of colour database

Science has more faces than we might realize. Kudos to SPARK Society for putting together this (growing) list of cognitive scientists of colour.


AI dungeon

Interactive fiction, where you collaborate with transformer models to create a story world of your own.

Word2Vec, in space

Word2Vec embedding space, but like, space. Fun and interactive way to get a handle on word embeddings.

TV tropes

An exhaustingly large, if not exhaustive, list of common tropes in TV and movies.

Free speculative fiction

A massive database of freely available speculative (i.e.,sci-fi/fantasy) fiction.

The interactive fiction database

A whole world of (interactive) storytelling.

The noun project

Icons for everything.

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Hello!  I'm Buddhika.

I received my PhD from the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, under the supervision of Cheryl Grady and Morris Moscovitch. I studied the neural bases and behavioural consequences of interactions between new learning  and prior knowledge.


My thesis was driven by an interest in a network of brain regions known as the default mode network (DMN). I wanted  to know why the DMN was particularly sensitive to stimuli with rich associations that extend beyond their physical properties (e.g., a face we recognize from our lives vs. one we don't; a word we can recollect from a studied list vs. a new word).


Could these regions be ideally situated in the brain to represent our internal models of the external environment? Considering the associative nature of our learning system, can this framework shine light onto the neural bases of a deep understanding?

I am now a  postdoctoral fellow with Janice Chen and Christopher Honey in the Psychological & Brain Sciences department at Johns Hopkins University. I use narratives, online experiments and naturalistic neuroimaging paradigms, to develop cognitive and neural models of phenomena related to deep understanding.  

Outside of research, I like to read stories and read about how magical stories are. I also like watching cartoons, basketball and cooking videos. Feel free to get in touch via email or twitter!