Professor Robinson will supervise one- and two-semester projects in behavioral neuroscience. Students who elect to conduct a one-semester project are welcome to choose from a wide range of approved topics in behavioral neuroscience. One-semester projects will consist of a literature review of empirical research and a research proposal of testable hypotheses. Two-semester projects include the design, collection and analysis of empirical data related to the topics described below. Two-semester projects culminate with an empirical research paper. Although there are three main areas listed below, students also have the option of proposing their own research ideas in consultation with Professor Robinson. Please note that 2-semester research projects in the Robinson lab typically involve working with rats.
Cortical Contributions to Simple and Complex Learning
While much focus has been on the contribution of the hippocampus to simple and complex learning and memory, the hippocampus does not act in isolation. Rather, cortical brain regions such as the retrosplenial cortex and the postrhinal cortex have been shown to strongly influence memory. Projects that further examine the contributions of these regions to simple and more complex learning will involve experimental design, surgical manipulations of brain regions (in rodents) and the use of Pavlovian and operant learning and memory paradigms.
The Influence of Exercise and Environmental Enrichment on Stress & Cognition
Pharmacological intervention is often the first approach for the management of stress and anxiety. However non-pharmacological interventions such as exercise and enriched environmental settings have been shown to counteract stress-induced cognitive impairment and reverse some effects of stress-induced changes in brain function. Projects could include but are not limited to examination of sex differences in response to non-pharmacological interventions or the synergistic effects of drugs and non-pharmacological interventions on cognition.
Motivation, Cognition & Addictive Behaviors Related to Rewards
Individual susceptibility to diet-induced obesity has been well established; some experimental subjects gain substantial amounts of weight when provided with a junk food diet whereas other experimental subjects do not. Similarly, some individuals demonstrate hyper-responsiveness to drugs and to drug-related cues. A number of questions pertaining to individual susceptibility are currently unanswered. For example, do individuals that are more susceptible to rewards and reward-related cues also perform differently on simple and complex learning tasks? Is individual susceptibility equivalent in both male and female populations? Are “reward sensitive” individuals more prone to risky decision making? What are the underlying neurobiological differences in motivational, emotional and cognitive brain systems of hyper-responders?