Brooklyn College faculty neuroscience research interests fall broadly within the areas of clinical, cognitive and behavioral. Most faculty members have interests that span several of these areas.
Clinical Neuroscience Focus
Assistant Professor Gao's research is focused on identifying biosocial markers for aggressive, antisocial, psychopathic, and criminal behavior by integrating multiple methodologies. Using non-invasive and easily accessible psychophysiological approaches (e.g., electrodermal activity and event-related potential) and advanced statistical methods (e.g., latent growth curve and multilevel modeling), she is addressing the following issues from cross-sectional and longitudinal standpoints: cognitive and affective deficits in aggressive, antisocial, psychopathic, and criminal individuals and decision making impairments in psychopaths, particularly antisocial individuals whose core features are callousness and lack of emotion.
Under Gao's mentorship, students might investigate:
- autonomic reactivity to neutral stimuli associated with rewards or punishment in classical conditioning paradigm in children with or without conduct disorder,
- neuropsychological and psychosocial impairments associated with or that moderate the conditioning deficits in conduct disordered children, and
- longitudinal changes or continuity of externalizing behavior from ages eight to nine years.
Associate Professor Rabin's research is focused on the cognitive and neurophysiological changes associated with preclinical stages of dementia. A current focus is subjective perception of memory loss. Recently, Rabin and her colleagues identified a group of nondepressed, healthy elders with significant cognitive complaints particularly involving memory, despite intact neuropsychological functioning. These individuals, who show structural brain changes intermediate between the changes seen in preclinical dementia (i.e., mild cognitive impairment, “MCI”) and normal elders, may represent a “pre-MCI” population.
Rabin was recently awarded a three-year NIH/NIA Pilot Project Award to use novel paradigms to test hypotheses regarding the nature and clinical significance of cognitive complaints in older adults. She will investigate whether these complaints reflect subtle abnormalities not readily detected by conventional tools, and whether tasks developed using paradigms other than traditional episodic memory (e.g., prospective, procedural metamemory) provide more sensitive criteria by which to test the relationship between subjective and objective memory. This project will be carried out at Brooklyn College and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where Rabin holds the position of visiting assistant professor of neurology.
Under Rabin's mentorship, students might investigate:
- the relation between cognitive complaints in nondepressed older adults and structural and functional brain changes,
- the relative value of self versus informant report of cognitive difficulties in the prediction of incident dementia, and
- predictors of cognitive and diagnostic stability or change in older adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
Assistant Professor Reigada’s interests focus on early identification and evidence-based treatment of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents in nontraditional settings (e.g., primary care, pediatric specialty clinics, school). Specific goals are to:
- identify youth presenting to their pediatrician with undiagnosed anxiety;
- develop empirically supported interventions that are feasible, effective and sustainable within nontraditional settings;
- understand mechanisms of treatment change (i.e., cognitive and behavioral outcomes); and
- understand psychological and physiological sequelae associated with pediatric medical conditions.
Reigada holds a three-year Career Development Award from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. She is developing and testing the feasibility and potential efficacy of a cognitive-behavioral intervention for anxious adolescents diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to reduce psychiatric and IBD symptom severity, as well as improve quality of life, medical management, health service utilization, and school and general functioning. This project has an interdisciplinary team including mental health specialists and medical staff from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, Brooklyn College and Pittsburgh Medical School.
Under Reigada's mentorship, students might investigate:
- the relationship between the disease process (using inflammation biomarkers and physician report) and psychopathology in children and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease and anxiety following a cognitive-behavioral intervention,
- steroid effects on cognitive functioning (i.e., declarative and working memory) in college students with autoimmune disorders, and
- mental and medical health benefits of peer support in adults with chronic illness.
Associate Professor Walder’s research is focused on identification of early neurodevelopmental factors associated with risk for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, with consideration of sex differences and environmental contributions. Her work incorporates various methodologies such as neurohormone assay (e.g., salivary cortisol), neurocognitive, clinical and behavioral assessment (e.g., psychiatric symptoms, personality traits), genetics, neuroimaging and psychophysiology (e.g., galvanic skin response) to address clinically relevant questions among healthy/non-clinical, at-risk youth and young adult samples. Walder holds a National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Young Investigator Award. The NARSAD study uses a genetics-neuroimaging approach to test hypotheses regarding identification of what she and her collaborators propose will be a novel neurobiological marker of risk for depression among adolescents. More specifically, she proposes detection of white matter abnormalities (using diffusion tensor imaging techniques) that reflect convergence of genetic vulnerability with history of stress among non-depressed adolescents. This project will be carried out collaboratively at Brooklyn College, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Yale School of Medicine, along with collaborators at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine.
Under Walder's mentorship, students might investigate:
- the relationship of psychiatric symptoms with neurocognition or dermatoglyphics,
- the relationship of mood/personality with psychophysiological measures, and
- the relationship of psychiatric symptoms with stress.
Cognitive Neuroscience Focus
Professor Basil’s research focuses on changes in learning and memory capabilities over the course of invertebrate evolution and the origin and function of supporting neural and sensory systems in basal species. A critical component of her research is to determine how the environment and evolution have shaped the learning and memory capabilities of animals that primarily rely upon nonvisual information to make navigation decisions. Her two model systems are the Chambered Nautilus (for the sense of smell) and the freshwater crayfish, Procambarus clarkii (for the sense of touch). She focuses on what kinds of sensory information animals collect from their environment, what they remember of that information and for how long, and how they then use such information to make important orientation decisions. Professor Basil pursues three interrelated lines of research: first, the Basil Lab investigates learning and memory capabilities in nautilids, a monophyletic group in the cephalopod molluscs which have retained many pleisiomorphic features (understanding their complex behavior may contribute to understanding the evolution of neural and behavioral complexity in the entire class); secondly, the Basil Lab has recently initiated neuroethological studies aimed at identifying the sites of learning and memory in the nautilus CNS; and finally, the Basil Lab also uses crayfishes as a model for the haptic sense, or guided tactile behavior. Here classical conditioning is paired with open-field methods to measure haptic contributions to learning and memory of the environment in a relatively "simple" neuroanatomical model.
Under Professor Basil’s mentorship, students may investigate: (1) evolutionary biology studies of the Chambered Nautilus (e.g., behavioral and neural correlates of learning and memory, chemosensory biology, classical conditioning, spatial memory processing, and cellular and anatomical properties of learning in Nautilus); (2) tactile learning and memory in crustaceans (e.g., metric versus topological coding of space, duration and structure of memory for tactile information, timing of and neural contributions to memory consolidation in crayfish; and (3) comparative spatial learning in Cephalopods.
Assistant Professor Carmichael's research examines the links between relationship processes, emotion, health and well-being. Using behavioral observation, physiological assessment and daily experience sampling methods (e.g., diary reports) with college and community samples of couples, this research attempts to refine our understanding of how personal characteristics (e.g., attachment orientation) and emotional experiences (e.g., ambivalence) shape dyadic processes (e.g., disclosure, support provision, and responsive care giving) that have a meaningful impact on relationship quality, and the psychological and physiological outcomes that contribute to long-term health well-being, and longevity. These processes are investigated in both positive contexts (e.g., when something good happens in the relationship), and negative contexts (e.g., when partners experience intra-dyadic conflict or extra-dyadic stress).
Under Carmichael's mentorship, students might investigate:
- the types of behaviors that relationship partners engage in to demonstrate that they understand, validate and care for each other in both positive and negative relationship contexts;
- how those processes unfold in a relatively naturalist setting on a daily basis in the couple's relationship; and
- how those behaviors impact physiology (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and neuroendocrine activity (e.g., stress hormone production).
Assistant Professor Chua’s research examines the neural and cognitive underpinnings of memory and metamemory (knowledge of one's own memory). Her research has used multiple methods (functional magnetic resonance imaging, eye tracking), paradigms (feeling-of-knowing, confidence ratings) and populations (younger adults, older adults, Alzheimer’s Disease patients) to understand how we know what we know. She addresses this major question by determining which brain regions support metacognitive thinking, and what kinds of information we use to make judgments about our own memory.
Under Chua's mentorship, students might investigate:
- cognitive and neural factors that contribute to confidence-accuracy dissociations in memory using fMRI and eye tracking,
- factors that occur at the time of encoding that correlate with future memory distortion, and
- how these change in normal aging.
Neuroimaging data will be acquired at the NYU Center for Brain Imaging.
Professor Ghirlanda develops both theories and experiments to understand the behavior of humans and other animals. His research has focused on the mechanisms of stimulus recognition and generalization (how we behave in new situations based on what we know from similar, familiar situations), on associative learning, and on the organization of behavior in animals in general. In all these areas, he has developed neural network models to investigate how nervous systems accomplish the fantastic feats that enable animals to survive and reproduce in their environment. With a B.Sc. in mathematical physics and a Ph.D. in animal behavior, Prof. Ghirlanda has worked to integrate the insights of animal behavior scholars into mathematical models that formulate precise predictions about behavior.
Under Professor Ghirlanda's mentorship, students will be able to engage in either theoretical modeling (including computer simulation of neural networks) or experimental research. Possible topics for experimental research are testing novel predictions about associative learning and stimulus generalization in humans, and investigating the mechanisms of human facial attractiveness.
Assistant Professor Kacinik studies the cognitive and neural basis of language processing. One line of research examines the representation and activation of word meanings in semantic memory. The other deals with the comprehension of higher levels of language (i.e., figurative expressions, discourse, and pragmatics). These issues are investigated behaviorally with a variety of psycholinguistic procedures and with methods from cognitive neuroscience like visual half-field presentation, event-related potentials (ERPs), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and left vs. right hemisphere-injured stroke patients.
Students in Kacinik's lab might investigate:
- hemispheric differences and contextual influences for processing irony, metaphors, idioms and various social situations;
- the cognitive and neural processes underlying dyslexia; and
- the extent to which perceptual information can be incorporated into and potentially alter representations of word meaning.
Professor Kozbelt studies the psychology of creativity and cognition, with the aim of achieving as "scientific" an understanding of the nature of creativity and the creative process as one can. His methodologies cover the spectrum of genres of creativity research, including laboratory studies, cognitive-historical case studies, archival data analyses and computer-content analyses. These studies are often highly quantitative, using, for example, hierarchical linear modeling of artists at work to identify creative approaches to problem solving. Laboratory studies test complex models of the mechanisms contributing to artists' advantages in perceptual processing and realistic drawing, by comparing experts and novices in perception and drawing tests, the decisions artists and novices make during drawing, and how other artists and non-artists judge the results. Other studies focus on understanding the nature of the creative process and aesthetics and creativity in software development. A collaborative project with Scott Dexter (CIS) investigates the development of a model for creativity in software development. This project examines the empirical basis for the claim that creativity has significant, cross-disciplinary aspects and that the study of creativity in programming can profitably draw upon, and contribute to, the study of creativity in other disciplines.
Under Kozbelt’s mentorship, students might:
- work on designing new tasks to assess visual artists’ susceptibility to perceptual illusions;
- collect, parse and analyze verbal protocols from artists creating original drawings or software experts revising poorly written computer code; and
- catalogue and statistically model archival data on lifespan or trans-historical trends of various creativity metrics.
Associate Professor Kurylo investigates how groups of neurons work together to produce unified functions. Fundamental to such systems are the connections that integrate neurons across the cortical surface. Understanding the principles by which cross-cortical connections operate is critical to understanding cortical functions, including visual processing and other cognitive functions. This topic is addressed by investigating cortical systems that mediate visual perception. In brief, rats are trained to discriminate visual patterns that are contained within a surrounding context. For these displays, enhanced perceptual ability produced by a congruent context is hypothesized to result from long-range excitatory neural connections, whereas decreased ability produced by an incongruent context results from short-range inhibitory connections. To test this hypothesis, changes in perceptual abilities are measured in the presence of chemical interventions that selectively block either excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters. Experimental approaches include psychophysical techniques for precise quantitative evaluation of perceptual capacities, the application of psychophysical techniques to animal models, in which perceptual capacities are measured indirectly through behavioral responses, operant conditioning procedures, including the shaping and linking of behavioral responses based upon discrimination of visual stimuli, and physiological intervention of neurochemical systems by systemic administration or by a cannula implanted over cortical areas.
Under Kurylo’s mentorship, students might investigate:
- characteristics of visual perceptual organization with regard to the spatial and temporal context in which stimuli are presented,
- changes to perceptual thresholds in rats that result from neurochemical blockers, and
- alterations of perceptual abilities that result from disruption of neural processing at early, intermediate and high-order cortical areas.
Behavioral Neuroscience Focus
Professor Delamater runs a behavioral neuroscience laboratory (research techniques include brain lesion, targeted drug infusion, histology), and his main focus is on an analysis of the basic mechanisms of associative learning processes in a rodent model. Specific projects concern:
- an understanding at both psychological and neural systems levels of basic cognitive and motivational processes as revealed through simple Pavlovian and instrumental learning paradigms, and
- an assessment of the effects of chronic heroin exposure on cognition and motivation for natural and alternative drug rewards.
Over the next several years he expects that his research will develop in a few specific directions. First, he will further explore the basic mechanisms of a phenomenon called "extinction" in Pavlovian learning because this phenomenon is central to our understanding of associative learning and has important clinical implications. Second, Delamater and colleagues will explore through lesion studies (targeting amygdala and striatum) potential dissociations among different forms of learning based on reward quality and time (so-called what and when learning). Third, Delamater will further explore the psychological mechanisms by which chronic heroin influences natural reward processing.
Under Delamater’s mentorship, students may investigate:
- conditions under which non-reinforcement results in permanent versus transient loss of information in Pavlovian conditioning with rats,
- psychological and neural dissociations between learning to expect specific reward types and to time their arrival, and
- the psychological consequences of heroin sensitization upon appetitive learning.
Using fish as model systems, Assistant Professor Forlano employs a combination of evolutionary/systems neuroscience with a molecular and cellular approach to identify the mechanisms underlying steroidinduced neural plasticity and sex differences in brain and behavior. These studies focus on vocal, auditory and neuroendocrine circuits that are conserved across all vertebrates. To investigate the functional neurochemistry underlying the behavioral response to social acoustic signals, one study seeks to delineate circuits in the adult female midshipman fish brain that are activated during a directed behavioral response to the male mate call, just prior to spawning. Neurochemical phenotype of activated neurons and catecholaminergic innervation of specific brain nuclei will be compared in responsive ("motivated") vs. unresponsive ("unmotivated") females. Results from these experiments could reveal novel insights into the function and evolution of vertebrate brain circuits and neurochemistry involved in the motivated response to social acoustic signals in a reproductive context. Forlano's behavioral experiments are being conducted with collaborators from the University of Washington and the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab, from which pilot data are being collected for a future NSF proposal.
Under Forlano's mentorship, students may investigate:
- seasonal and steroid hormone regulation of dopamine and serotonin in a vocal fish (by comparing monoamine content in the brain between and within sexes, across reproductive and behavioral states and after experimental hormone treatment),
- neurochemical characterization of neurons activated during behavioral response to acoustic social signals (by using double label immunofluorescence to identify the neurochemical phenotype of neurons showing immediate early gene induction during a directed behavioral response), and
- non-classical estrogen-signaling pathways in vocal-acoustic circuitry (by quantifying activated neurons after acute estrogen exposure).
Associate Professor Grasso's research is dedicated to discovering mechanisms that control and coordinate behavior. He uses biomimetic robots and computer simulations in parallel with animal behavior studies to validate theories of behavior. Using a comparative approach, neural, evolutionary and ecological constraints on behavior are central to his work, which holds that a complete understanding of a behavior must include these constraints. Research models for these studies are typically advanced marine invertebrates such as crustaceans (spiny, slipper and clawed lobsters) and cephalopods (octopuses and cuttlefishes) and lower vertebrates such as fish (catfish) and amphibians (axolotls). The overarching aim of parallel behavioral and robotic studies is to achieve an understanding of the organism’s behavior through sequential hypotheses tests that eliminate unlikely operations of the entire nervous system. His research avoids functionally irrelevant biological details and takes the computational perspective that simulation and robot models must embody a cogent theoretical formulation.
Under Grasso's mentorship, students may investigate:
- mobile robot studies of exploratory and orientation behavior using artificial neural network control — such studies parallel the searching and orientation behaviors of crustaceans,
- investigation of dexterous control and manipulation by cephalopods such as octopus and cuttlefish and exploration of space by crustaceans such as freshwater crayfish and lobsters, and
- field observation and recording of nesting behavior of a nativized population of Argentinean monk parakeets (on the Brooklyn College campus), who possess exceptional building skills and complex social structures.
Distinguished Professor Sclafani investigates the biology and psychology of appetite. He studies why foods high in sugar and fat are so attractive that they promote overeating and obesity. The sweet taste of sugar is one obvious answer, but new findings indicate that fat may have its own taste receptors. Sclafani and colleagues have also discovered that rodents can "taste" starch and starch-derived polysaccharides. Current work investigates how carbohydrates and fat act in the intestinal tract to stimulate food intake and condition flavor preferences. Recently he has extended this approach to the study of inbred mouse strains and genetically modified mice. This research has been supported by an NIH grant for the last 27 years. Sclafani's team also investigates the neuropharmacology of learned flavor preferences with the support of a second NIH grant. Findings reveal a critical role for brain dopamine reward circuits in flavornutrient learning but a more limited role for opioid reward systems. Another project supported by the Ajinomoto Company is investigating flavor conditioning by the amino acid glutamate. Although Sclafani's studies involve laboratory rats and mice, they have direct implications for people because of the similarities in human and rodent taste systems, gut nutrient sensing, and flavor learning processes. With obesity and diabetes approaching epidemic proportions in the United States, a more complete understanding of how foods promote overeating may lead to new ways of treating these disorders.
Under Sclafani's mentorship, students may investigate:
- the role of experience on the umami (monosodium glutamate) preferences in rats,
- sugar intake and preferences in mice with genetic deletion of the sweet taste receptor, and
- the influence of deprivation state and weight loss on the selection of sugar-rich vs. starch-rich foods in mice.