brenda yang

PhD candidate · she/her/hers · Durham, NC

Hi there! I'm a curious human, researcher, and educator committed to answering interesting questions, building community, and designing thoughtfully.


My advisor is Elizabeth Marsh. I also collaborate with Felipe De Brigard and Bridgette Martin Hard. My primary research questions are:

  • How do we remember events and people from fiction?
  • What shapes misinformation and false belief?
  • What are the consequences of deceptive visualizations?
  • What can psychology and education learn from each other?

More below.

Narrative fiction

“For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.”

Jhumpa Lahiri

The landscape of our memories is constructed from more than things that really happened. We also imagine worlds that never existed and people we've never met. I am fascinated by how and why we consume, remember, and share works of narrative fiction (such as books, movies, and TV shows). My work explores the ways that memories of fiction can be considered part of the autobiographical record.

Selected Works
  • Yang, B.W., Deffler, S.A. & Marsh, E.J. (2018). Fiction As Autobiography: Phenomenological Characteristics of Memories of Fiction. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society. New Orleans, LA. [View]
  • Yang, B.W. (2018). Fiction as Autobiography. Thesis submitted for the completion of the Duke Psychology and Neuroscience departent preliminary exam. [View]
  • Marsh, E.J., & Yang, B.W. (2020). Broadening the Autobiographical Record: The Roles of Borrowed Memories and Memories of Fictional Events. Invited chapter in A. M. Cleary and B. L. Schwartz (Eds.) Memory Quirks: The Study of Odd Phenomena in Memory.
  • Yang, B.W., Deffler, S.A., & Marsh, E.J. (R&R at Journal of Experimental Psychology: General). A Comparison of Memories of Fiction and Autobiographical Memories.

Misinformation & belief

How do we decide what to believe and remember? We consider novel forces that shape belief, including asymmetries in believing and unbelieving, the impermanance of qualifying language, and the weak contributions of reasons in changing people's minds. We also summarize findings from cognitive science, such as the theme that we are easily swayed by cognitive shortcuts and prior beliefs, for interdisciplinary audiences.

Selected Works
  • Marsh, E.J. & Yang, B.W. (2017). A Call to Think Broadly about Information Literacy. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. [View]
  • Marsh, E.J., & Yang, B.W. (2018). Believing Things That Are Not True: A Cognitive Science Perspective on Misinformation. In B. G. Southwell, E. A. Thorson, & L. Sheble (Eds.), Misinformation and Mass Audiences. Austin: University of Texas Press. PDF. [View]
  • Stanley, M.L., Yang, B.W., & Marsh, E.J. (2018). When the Unlikely Becomes Likely: Qualifying Language Does Not Influence Later Truth Judgments. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.
  • Stanley, M.L., Henne, P., Yang, B.W. & De Brigard, F. (2019). Resistance to Position Change, Motivated Reasoning, and Polarization. Political Behavior.
  • Stanley, M.L.*, Yang, B.W.*, & Marsh, E.J. (R&R at Journal of Memory and Language). Asymmetries in Belief Revision.

Data visualization

How can graphs mislead? We have largely ignored the potential contributions of graphs in generating and propagating misinformation. I am excited to say our research on this topic has only just begun. So far, we've focused on the effect of vertical axis truncation in bar graphs.

This project was spearheaded by Camila Vargas Restrepo when she was an undergraduate honors student in the Marsh Memory lab.

Selected Works
  • Yang, B.W.*, Vargas Restrepo, C.*, Stanley, M.L., & Marsh, E.J. (revise and resubmit at JARMAC). Truncating Bar Graphs Persistently Misleads Viewers. [Pre-print]
  • Yang, B.W., Restrepo-Vargas, C., Marsh, E.J. (2019) Judgments of deceptive visualizations. Talk presented at the Society for Applied Memory and Cognition. Cape Cod, MA. [View]
  • Restrepo-Vargas, C. (2018) Judgments of Deceptive Bar Graphs. Data blitz presented at the North Carolina Cognition Conference. Chapel Hill, NC. [View]
  • Restrepo-Vargas, C., Yang, B.W., Marsh, E.J. (2018) Judgments of Deceptive Bar Graphs. Poster presented at the Duke University Visible Thinking conference. Durham, NC. [View]


The business of learning and remembering is central to classrooms. Thus, one line of my work explores how the science of learning can be adapted and shared to students and teachers. I also work with Bridgette Martin Hard to study the scholarship of teaching and learning, merging excellent pedagogy with research on how best to teach and support students.

Selected Works
  • Yang, B.W., Blondel, D.V., Rosenberg, J., Sansone, A., Linennbrink-Garcia, L., & Schwarz-Bloom, R.D. (2017). The Rex virtual experiment platform: Design, implementation, and effects on situational interest. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Washington, DC. [View]
  • Blondel, D.V., Rosenberg, J., Sansone, A., Godin, E.A., Yang, B.W., Jaglom-Kurtz, L.T., Linennbrink-Garcia, L., Schwartz-Bloom, R.D (2019). Development of an Online Experiment Platform for High School Biology. Journal of Formative Design in Learning. [View]
  • Yang, B.W.* & Bejjani, C.* (2018). Developing An Implicit Measure of Intelligence Mindset. Talk presented at the Duke University BRITE Ideas Talk Series. Durham, NC. [View]
  • Yang, B.W., Razo, J., & Persky, A.M. (2019). Testing as a Learning Tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. [View]

An example of an exhibit quote: 'I think I am intelligence; however, I often question if I am smart enough to be at Duke.'


“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”

Paulo Freire

I came to graduate school by way of being an educator. My teaching style is intentional, reflective, innovative, and joyful. I am experienced in developing student-centered curriculum differentiated for a wide range of skills, and centering classroom instruction on the lived realities of students. I am always seeking ways to grow. My goal in teaching is always to help students reveal their own potential to themselves.

I won the Duke University's Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2020. See my teaching portfolio for course syllabi, detailed student evaluations, and more.

Selected positions
  • Life Science Teacher, PUC Community Charter Early College High School

    2012 - 2015

    I taught Anatomy & Physiology and Biology courses, developing and executing innovative, inquiry-based curricula. View student feedback from 2015.

  • Cognitive Psychology Teacher, Center for Talented Youth


    I developed and led an intensive (7 hours a day for 3 weeks), college-level cognitive psychology course for gifted youth grades 7 - 12. Students wrote extensively, researched and debated linguistic relativism, and wrote & illustrated a book of colloquially answered cognitive neuroscience "What if?" questions. View student feedback.

  • Teaching Assistant, Duke University

    2015 - 2017

    I served as a TA for Ruth Day (Psy102 Cognitive Psychology) and Mark Leary (Psy104 Personality Psychology).

  • Course Coordinator, Duke University

    2018 - 2019

    I voluntered to coordinate two semesters of Introduction to Psychology (Psy101), along with Paula Yust. This included mentorship of 14 undergraduate teaching fellows (including observations and written feedback), developing formative and summative assessments, and managing communication with students.

  • Adjunct Faculty, Elon University

    Fall 2019

    I designed and taught Cognitive Psychology (Psy242). This course contained a lab component and enrolled 24 students. Students wrote science communication pieces; select pieces will be published Spring 2020 The Pendulum, Elon's campus newspaper. View student perceptions of teaching: full report, with comparative info.

From students

  • You were one of my most influential professors I have ever had here at Elon. I admire your love for what you do and how eager you were to understand the students you were teaching. (Elon student)
  • I really enjoy the layout of the class. The powerpoints are very engaging and well made, which helps everyone pay attention and stay focused. I also enjoy how comfortable the class environment is. People don't have to worry about saying the wrong answer or asking a question when they don't understand, which helps facilitate learning. (Elon student)
  • Thank you for being one of the best speakers I’ve learned science from! How you present information is transformative. (Guest lesson student)
  • My TFs were very encouraging of discussion, made us get to know each other, and created a space where we could discuss concepts in-depth. Paula and Brenda were both incredibly warm and engaging. (Psy101 student)
  • Brenda was an excellent instructor for the course. She was always very friendly and made you feel very comfortable in the discussion section. ... She always explained things very clearly and was obviously organized, and I greatly enjoyed having her as a resource and instructor throughout the duration of the course. She was very effectively able to turn the discussion section into a closer and more personal setting than would otherwise be found within the bigger lecture hall. I always enjoyed coming to her section. (Psy102 student)
  • More than anything about psychology, I learned about the best values to have in class: joy, community, and ingenuity. (CTY student)
  • What aspects that I have learned the most from this class is that I know how to send a scholarly email to my teachers and others. (CCECHS student)
  • I liked doing the dissections because you learn more from it and get to see how it actually looks like, not just with pictures. (CCECHS student)

Scholars of 9th grade Biology
Starting a sheep brain dissection
Cleaning up my classroom of 3 years at CCECHS
CTY students showing off what they learned about brain anatomy

For past students

How are you? I'm so happy you dropped by. I would love to hear from you. You can send me an email at my personal address: brendaya12 at Some reasons you might want to contact me include:

  • Sending a personal update about your life
  • Sending an update about our school community
  • Asking for a letter of recommendation (see below)
  • Asking about careers, colleges, or graduate school
  • An interesting article or news that you found

It would be my pleasure to write you a letter of recommendation. Please keep in mind that I won't have very recent knowledge of your academic or personal growth. If you still feel that a letter from me might help you succeed, please provide the following:

  • At least 2 weeks notice from when you need it
  • An updated resume or other relevant info about you
  • What you are applying to and why you're excited about the opportunity
  • If relevant, recent grades/academic achievements
  • Any additional information that would be helpful for me to know so I can write about it

CV and résumé

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