Projects in Behavioral Genetics Supervised by Christa Christ

Professor Christ will supervise senior projects in neuroscience research that focus on characterizing the role of genetic variation on individual differences in risky and social behaviors.  Her work employs candidate gene-by-environment methods to (1) examine the association between functional polymorphisms that affect the regulation of neurotransmitter systems and individual differences in behavior (e.g. aggression, prosocial behavior, substance use, gambling) in the context of environmental modifiers (e.g. childhood trauma, social support, parental monitoring), and (2) better elucidate the pathway between genetic variation and behavior by examining proximate episodic factors and processes.  Topics of particular interest are listed below, but other related topics are welcome.

Serotonin-Related Emotional Reactivity vs. Dopamine-Related Reward Sensitivity Pathway of Aggressive Behaviors

Genetic polymorphisms, related to both serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission, have been associated with individual differences in aggressive behavior.  However, the pathway between genetic variation and aggression is not well understood.  It is proposed that emotional reactivity may mediate the association between serotonin-related polymorphisms and aggression, while reward sensitivity may mediate the association between dopamine-related polymorphisms and aggression.  Projects would include investigating the biological and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of engaging in aggressive behavior via emotional reactivity and reward sensitivity.

Gender Differences in Stress Response

Exposure to an acute stressor activates what is referred to as the “fight-or-flight” mechanism, which can result in aggressive behavior for some individuals.  However, in females particularly, there is evidence to suggest that exposure to an acute stressor results in a “tend-and-befriend” response, where females are more likely to seek out social support when exposed to stress.  Projects would include investigating what types of acute stress (e.g. social exclusions, social-evaluative threat, gender role threat) are associated with aggressive vs. prosocial behavior, and whether there are gender differences in the contribution of genetic and environmental factors.