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Integrative Neuroscience Overview

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Integrative Neuroscience (Biological Psychology): Who we are 

We are psychologists who care passionately about understanding how the brain can generate the richness of behavior seen in humans and in other animals. As such, our disciplines of Biological Psychology and Integrative Neuroscience are aimed at the identification of biological mechanisms that explain behavior. We might ask the following questions. 

  • How do genes and environmental influences interact over the lifespan to become a person’s personality? 
  • What goes wrong in neurological diseases and developmental disorders?
  • What brain systems are most critical for decision-making?
  • How does experience modify the brain?
  • How do addictive behaviors arise?

Where and How?  

The current focus of our field is identification of biological mechanisms that underlie behavior and behavioral disorders. For example, we care about identifying the neural circuits involved in particular behaviors, cognition, traits, or emotions. The advent of fMRI has revolutionized our ability to conduct such studies in healthy human beings. Toward that goal, we have an NSF-funded 3T MRI at our SCAN (Social, Cognitive, Affective Neuroscience) Center, directed by Turhan Canli. 

But localization is only a starting point in biological psychology. We also seek to understand how cells, neurochemicals and genes play their roles within those neural circuits to explain sensation, emotion, and movement. Additionally, we seek to identify the behavioral deficits that result from both neurological disorders in humans and animal models of those disorders. 

Linking Psychology and Biology:   Biological Psychology reflects the need to explain behavior within the natural laws, and through a biological lens. Therefore, we seek to capitalize on the explosion of knowledge and methods from the fields of molecular biology, cellular physiology and anatomy to rapidly advance our understanding of behavior. 

Students in Integrative Neuroscience will gain research skills that cross disciplines in order to   place them at the cutting edge of science. IN students will be positioned to easily cross disciplines and adapt as the field shifts over time.


An Equilibrium Point: 

Integrative Neuroscience offers an equilibrium point between the reductionist approaches in the cellular sciences and the global focus on behavior within the psychological sciences. Similar to other subdisciplines in psychology, our questions arise from behavior and the systems level of analysis, but as we seek to explain behavior, we seek answers from the anatomical, cellular and molecular sciences. Integrative neuroscientists cross these challenging disciplinary gaps. For example, 

 Turhan Canli asks, how might genes influence personality? 
 Hoi-Chung Leung asks, how is the prefrontal cortex functioning in depression?   
  • Ryan Parsons’ lab investigates the neurobiological mechanisms supporting learning and memory using Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats. The goal of this work is to answer basic questions about how the brain supports learning and memory, as well as translational questions related to aberrant fear learning that is central to fear-based psychopathologies such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Peter Thanos’ lab is interested in translational research utilizing animal models of psychopathology to better understand the mechanisms involved in specific psychological disorders. His major focus is addiction including the role of dopamine signaling in food, drug and alcohol abuse. Dr. Thanos uses in-vitro (autoradiography) and in-vivo (PET) imaging, recombinant gene therapy and optogenetics.

Our willingness to straddle the different levels of complexity represents the fundamental assumption that true understanding of the brain and behavior will ultimately require interrelation of concepts across levels of organization. 

By training in Integrative Neuroscience, students will be able to speak the language of the many disciplines that hold the key to our ultimate understanding of behavior. These include cell biology, physiology, anatomy and psychology


Capitalizing on all available knowledge, and research methodologies.  The primate brain differs not by having radically new structures relative to other animals, but primarily by the expansion of the cerebral cortex. Since the brain is the substrate for behavior, non-human animals represent the basic framework upon which refinements of the brain and behavior were added in a continuous order. The discipline of behavioral neuroscience rejects the notion that human behavior, while unique, is radically discontiguous from animal behavior. Instead, Integrative Neuroscientists capitalize on research conducted in both humans and animals. 

  • Patricia Whitaker-Azmitia  asks, how do neurotransmitters and hormones shape brain development and, in turn, behavior? By altering transmitter levels, she can identify the neurobiological mediators of developmental disorders such as autism, producing relevant and useful animal models.
  • John Robinson asks, how does exercise and cognitive stimulation offset a genetic predisposition to develop dementia?
  • Brenda Anderson seeks to understand how behavior and the brain is shaped by experience.  She has developed a rodent living environment that allows manipulation of stressors to determine how the role of threat is shaping features of anxiety. 

By training in Integrative Neuroscience, students learn to capitalize on all available information and methods relevant to their interests.