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Department of Psychological Sciences

Behavioral Neuroscience/Animal Learning Behavioral Neuroscience

Behavioral Neuroscience faculty, postdoc, and grad students
The Behavioral Neuroscience faculty, postdoc, and graduate students currently in the program.

Dr. Mary Cain's research interests also include the neurobiological basis of drug abuse using a rodent model. One area of research investigates the neural structures that contribute to elevated drug use caused by genetic or environmental factors. A second research area explores the effects of Pavlovian fear conditioning on drug taking behavior in rats. Methods used in the laboratory include locomotor activity, self-administration, and brain microinfusions. Both research areas are attempting to determine the neuronal structures that contribute to drug taking behavior in order to develop methods to decrease drug use using both behavioral and neurological techniques.

Dr. Mary Cain (785)532-6884 has additional information concerning this research.


Dr. Stephen Kiefer's on-going investigations currently involve alcohol research using rodent models (rats and mice). Specifically, the lab is interested in the taste of alcohol as it is believed that taste is an important factor in determining ultimate use (and abuse) of this drug. Given that alcohol is normally only introduced to the body through oral consumption, taste would occupy a pivotal role in decisions about accepting or rejecting this substance. The most current project examines the role of the opiate system in modulating the taste of alcohol. Research has shown conclusively that antagonism of the opiate system via a drug (naltrexone) renders the taste of alcohol solutions more aversive -- rats find the taste to be relatively unpalatable. Additionally, naltrexone decreases alcohol consumption during restricted access tests. A drug that can make alcohol taste bad has the potential as a deterrent for alcohol consumption. Future research plans include an examination of specific brain regions where endogenous opiates produce their effects on alcohol taste and consumption.


Dr. Kimberly Kirkpatrick’s comparative cognition lab conducts research using pigeons, rats, and people. The rat timing laboratory is currently conducting investigations on the role of timing processes in temporal discounting choice procedures. The current investigations are striving to uncover the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms involved in choosing between a smaller more immediate outcome versus a delayed and more valuable outcome. The research is particularly relevant to understanding impulsive choices that are associated with drug addiction, ADHD, and impulsive personality disorder. As research in this area unfolds over time, multiple levels of analysis will be used including behavioral, computational, neurobiological, and translational approaches. The pigeon visual cognition laboratory is dedicated to the study of visual perception and visual cognition in pigeons, with some emphasis on comparative research with human subjects. Recent projects have been examining motion perception in both pigeons and people, and in examining the role of basic Gestalt principles such as good continuation in contributing to visual perception in the pigeon.

Dr. Kimberly Kirkpatrick has additional information concerning this research.

Dr. Charles Pickens is interested in how alcohol exposure in adolescence or adulthood affects the brain systems involved in learning about rewards and fear-inducing stimuli. He is particularly interested in the brain systems involved in the ability to learn about rewards and flexibly adjust our actions when our goals, or the correct strategies to achieve our goals, change. The lab studies these brain systems with the devaluation and reversal learning tasks in rats. He is also interested in the brain systems involved in fear and anxiety, and how this fear and anxiety can increase over time after traumatic events. The lab studies this in rats with the fear incubation task that he developed for this purpose. The lab uses brain lesions/temporary inactivations, functional neuroanatomy (measures of neuronal activity and retrograde tracing), and optogenetic, behavioral and pharmacological approaches to investigate these questions.

Dr. Charles Pickens has additional information concerning this research.


Animal Learning and Behavior

Dr. Jerome Frieman's research interests include Pavlovian conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning in hamsters and rats. Recent research has focused on social learning in dwarf hamsters (Phodopus campbelli) and golden hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), operant conditioning in dwarf hamsters, kin recognition in dwarf hamsters, and Pavlovian conditioning in rats.

Dr. Jerome Frieman has additional information concerning this research.