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Integrative Neuroscience Overview

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Integrative Neuroscience: Who we are 

We are psychologists committed to exploring the biological mechanisms of behavior in humans and non-human animals. Some of the questions we ask include these: 

  • How does the aging brain change and how do the underlying biological processes affect cognitive and affective functions? 
  • What is the neural basis of neurological and psychiatric diseases?
  • What brain systems are most critical for decision-making?
  • How does experience modify the brain?
  • What are the relationships between the genome, its expression, and the neural basis of behavior?

Where and How?  

Our field focuses on elucidating biological mechanisms that underlie behavior and behavioral disorders. For example, we are interested in identifying the neural circuits involved in behaviors and behavioral predispositions, such as cognitive performance, personality traits, or emotions. The advent of MRI has revolutionized our ability to conduct such studies in healthy human beings. To accomplish our research goals  we use an NSF-funded 3T MRI scanner at our SCAN (Social, Cognitive/Clinical, and Affective Neuroscience) Center, directed by Prof. Turhan Canli.

However, localization (the “where”) is only a starting point in Integrative Neuroscience. To explain sensation, emotion, and movement, we also seek to understand how cells, neurochemicals and genes act within those neural circuits . We also seek to identify the behavioral deficits that result from neurological disorders in humans and animal models of those disorders. 

One promising approach to addressing the “how” is to integrate research conducted in humans and in non-human animals. Whereas much of the human studies can identify associations between brain and behavior, experiments with animal models are better suited for manipulating  brain systems (e.g., by activating or silencing specific genes in specific brain regions). Such experiments allow assessing the impact of manipulations on behavior, thereby probing potential causal mechanisms.  

Integrative Neuroscience reflects the need to explain behavior within the natural laws, and through a biological lens. The term “integrative” reflects leveraging the advances in knowledge and methods across several disciplines– such as molecular biology, cellular physiology, and anatomy - to advance our understanding of behavior. “Integrative” also refers to levels of analysis: from the molecules to cells and brain circuits, to the brain systems, cognitive performance, and  behavior, including the societal implications of these scientific discoveries.  

An Equilibrium Point

Integrative Neuroscience strives to balance the reductionist approaches of the cellular sciences with 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 pursue explanation of behavior, we seek answers from the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels of analysis.

Meet our IN faculty

  • 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. 
  • Turhan Canli is interested in (1) the the role of the blood-brain barrier in depression, aging, and long-COVID cognitive and affective symptoms; (2) the roles of genes, human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), and environmental variables in individual differences in emotion, personality, and in social and political cognition; (3) brain and mental health in minorities in the United States and in refugee populations abroad; (4) neuroethics.
  • Xi Chen’s research delves into the intricacies of brain and cognitive differences in healthy aging and the early, asymptomatic stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Using multi-modal neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI and PET, along with blood and cognitive tests, her lab examines the earliest emergence of AD pathology in cognitively normal individuals and explores the factors contributing to resistance and resilience against age-related and AD-related changes. Her lab also investigates the influence of socioeconomic status (SES) on cognitive health disparities as individuals age.
  • Hoi-Chung Leung studies the neural basis of mnemonic and cognitive control processes in healthy adults and special populations (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, major depression) using neuroimaging and eye tracking approaches. Her team is investigating the neural representation of working memory and response control, effects of dopaminergic medication, and aging-related cognitive decline. The main goal is to understand the functional organization of the prefrontal circuits.
  • 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.
  • Alice Powers studies the brains and behavior of turtles in order to understand the evolution of the brain.  Currently her lab is investigating the role of adult neurogenesis in the turtle brain in learning and memory.  These studies involve maze learning, discrimination learning, stimulus generalization, and classical fear conditioning. Her lab also studies dominance hierarchies in turtles.
  • Naftali Raz is examining age-related changes in the human brain and their relation to cognitive aging. He is particularly interested in the impact of vascular, metabolic and inflammatory risk factors - environmental and genetic - on the individual differences in the trajectories of aging. He pursues the answers to these questions in the framework of longitudinal studies that assess brain properties with MRI and brain chemistry with Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy.

Our Student Alums

Graduates from our Ph.D. program have gone on to some of the most prestigious research and teaching universities for postdoctoral and faculty appointments. These include Brown, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard, New York University, Stanford, UCLA, University of St. Joseph, Yale, as well as foreign institutions in Germany, Japan, and elsewhere. Others went on to work in academic publishing, hospital administration, and other venues.


We have an excellent training program, as attested by the success of our alums, and we have a collegial and supportive atmosphere. We collaborate with colleagues across other areas in the Psychology Department and across the university. Some of us have international collaborations in Germany, UK, and Africa.

Our admission process is based on applicants’ academic credentials and on matching such applicants with suitable labs. Therefore, you should take a close look at our individual faculty profile pages to identify IN faculty whose research interests match yours and whether these faculty state that they are currently considering applications.

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. Therefore, as a student in our program you will gain research skills that cross disciplines that will place you at the cutting edge of science. You can acquire the skills necessary for statistical modeling of complex research designs in humans and animals. You will be well positioned to easily cross disciplines and adapt to an ever-changing landscape of scientific discovery. You will be able to speak the language of the many disciplines (cell biology, physiology, anatomy and psychology) that hold the key to our ultimate understanding of behavior.

As of the 2020 application cycle, GRE test scores are no longer required for application to the Integrative Neuroscience PhD Program.

To apply to our graduate program, you must complete an application by Dec. 15. Please follow the directions on how to apply described on the Graduate School website.