The Neuroscience group within the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) area of the Psychology department includes a diversity of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the biological basis of mental phenomena and clinical disorders. Topics of research range from microscopic neurochemical processes to the functional organization of large scale cerebral systems. We have extensive expertise in the fields of Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience and Social / Affective Neuroscience.
Core BBS Neuroscience Faculty
Dr. James M. Brown’s research is aimed at trying to understand how we organize, perceive, and attend to our visual world. The general research approach could be described as a combination of cognitive psychophysics and visual neuroscience. Psychophysical methods are used to explore the relationship between the physical stimulus and what is perceived (i.e., cognitive psychophysics) while at the same time seeking to understand these perceptual experiences based on current knowledge about the neural machinery of the visual brain (i.e., visual neuroscience). An example of this approach includes recent studies of figure-ground perception from the perspective of activity within and between the dorsal and ventral visual streams. Other examples of topics of study include illusions, objects, and scenes. Recent collaborative research has expanded this approach to eye movement behavior.
Laboratory: Visual Perception Laboratory
Dr. Brett Clementz has two general goals. The first is to understand how accurate sensory processing is maintained within the context of changing environmental circumstances. The second is to understand neurobiological distinctions between different subgroups of brain diseases called the psychoses (defined clinically by the presence of hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive distrubance), which have demonstrated, for the majority of cases to have a substantial genetic diathesis. For Dr. Clementz, the first goal, which often involves the study of the healthy brain, informs the second goal of understanding deviations in brain functions associated with manifestation of psychosis in order to facilitate improved diagnosis and treatment of severe psychiatric disorders. The methodological core of Dr. Clementz’ research involves use of simple and complex behavioral paradigms combined with use of neuroimaging technologies including electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). He uses sophisticated approaches to analyzing data collected with these technologies and is known for developing innovative analysis techniques. He and Dr. McDowell co-direct the Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.
Laboratory: Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
Dr. Dorothy Fragaszy is a primatologist and comparative psychologist. She studies flexible problem-solving behavior, particularly problems involving moving objects in space and time, using ecological, kinematic and experiential paradigms. She is co-director of the EthoCebus field project, which concerns the behavior and ecology of bearded capuchin monkeys in the Cerrado environment of Brazil. The monkeys at the site crack nuts and other encased foods with stone hammers. Their behavior provides a phylogenetically distant reference point to compare with humans (current and ancestral) who use similar techniques to solve similar problems. She has spent the last fifteen years studying how these monkeys master using heavy stone hammers, and more generally, their behavioral ecology and development. Her expertise includes social learning and traditions in nonhuman animals, manual dexterity, and well-being of nonhuman primates in captivity.
Laboratory: Primate Cognition and Behavior Laboratory
Dr. Brian Haas is focused on understanding individual differences in social and affective functioning in humans by using a multi-modal approach. He is interested in understanding the pathways in the brain, social behavior and culture. In his laboratory, a multi-modal approach is used that includes genetics, brain-imaging, personality assessment, social-behavioral experiments and cultural assessments. The primary objective of this research is to better understand the factors contributing to, and associated with, individual differences in the way people think and process their social world.
Laboratory: Gene-Brain-Social Behavior Laboratory
Dr. Randy Hammond studies all aspects of the human visual system. This extends from basic studies of the cornea, lens and retina to applied studies of visual processing within the brain. A primary focus of his laboratory has been the investigation of how lifestyle, primarily dietary, influences both the development of degenerative disease and the normal function of the central nervous system. For example, psychophysical methods are used to measure the concentration of the dietary carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin within the fovea (termed macular pigment or the macula lutea) and have related those pigments to various aspects of retinal and brain function.
Laboratory: Vision Sciences Laboratory
Dr. Phil Holmes’ current research program focuses on the neurobiological effects of exercise. This research employs rodent models to study the relationship between exercise-induced regulation of neurotransmitter function and behavior. He is particularly interested in long-term changes in gene expression in the brain caused by exercise. Recent work has focused on the neurochemical basis for the antidepressant effects of exercise. These studies demonstrate that physical activity alters brain levels of neurotransmitters and/or neurotrophic factors that may ameliorate symptoms of depression. Other studies conducted in his laboratory have shown that exercise may enhance learning and memory through a similar mechanism. More recently, they have discovered that exercise exerts neuroprotective effects, and are currently examining the role of the neurotransmitter galanin in these effects. These findings suggest that the capacity for exercise to prevent the neural degeneration associated with aging, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, or trauma may be mediated by discrete neural systems. Dr. Holmes and his students are currently studying the effects of exercise on the prevention of stress-induced relapse in rodent models of addiction.
Laboratory: Behavioral Neuropharmacology Laboratory
Dr. Jennifer McDowell studies the nature of cognitive control. Effective cognitive control mediates important decisions on a daily basis. Healthy people have wide variations in their ability to invoke cognitive control, but specific subgroups have far greater problems with this behavioral regulation mechanism. Cognitive control deficits occur in many clinical groups, ranging from children who are obese to adults with psychiatric disorders, and especially those with psychotic disorders. Dr. McDowell integrates behavioral and multi-modal brain imaging methods (f/MRI, EEG, MEG) to provide a comprehensive understanding of cognitive problems. An important goal is to determine the extent to which cognitive control is plastic, and particularly how it may be enhanced. This is highly relevant for populations at risk, and also relevant for people who do not have a clinical diagnoses, but may be at risk by virtue of being genetically related to someone with a psychiatric disorder, being obese, or having other characteristics that may predispose one to improperly modulated cognitive control. She and Dr. Clementz co-direct the Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.
Laboratory: Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
Dr. Dean Sabatinelli addresses the dynamic brain mechanisms that underlie emotional stimulus processing. Through the use of noninvasive measures including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), dense-array electroencephalography (EEG), and peripheral psychophysiological recording, he investigates the organization of cortical and subcortical networks during emotional perception and imagery. Their research results are generally consistent with the hypothesis that affective cues engage basic brain processes that have evolved to mediate appetitive and defensive behaviors. Tracking the action of the brain requires exquisite resolution in space and time, thus the lab is also focused on refining the techniques used to acquire and analyze high-resolution brain imaging data.
Laboratory: Georgia Emotion Neuro-Imaging Laboratory
Dr. Lawrence Sweet integrates multimodal neuroimaging and neuropsychological assessments to examine brain-behavior relationships in clinical and at-risk populations (e.g., addictions, cardiovascular disease, early life adversity, aging). The Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory (CNS Lab) specializes in experimental design, and data acquisition, analyses, and interpretation for studies that employ functional magnetic resonance imaging, structural morphometry, and white matter lesion quantification. The CNS Lab is responsible for data analyses and consultation for several local and multi-site NIH-funded research studies.
Laboratory: Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory
Affiliated Neuroscience Faculty
Dr. Steve Miller works to understand central nervous system mechanisms related to cognition seen in aging, aging pathology, and traumatic brain injury. This is accomplished through the use of traditional neuropsychological paradigms, structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI/fMRI), and cognitive intervention. Special foci of this work include geriatric aging and functional independence, aging psychopathology, concussive injury, and evaluation of data validity.
Laboratory: Neuropsychology and Memory Assessment Laboratory
Dr. Greg Strauss uses a translational approach to study various aspects of reward and emotion in schizophrenia, relying on theoretical frameworks and methods from the field of affective neuroscience (e.g., fMRI, EEG/ERPs, eye tracking, electrocardiography, electrodermal activity, electromyography). Traditionally, these studies have focused on the etiology of negative symptoms of schizophrenia (e.g., avolition, andhedonia, and asociality). Examples of specific topics include examining whether abnormalities in different components of reward processing (e.g., reinforcement learning, effort-cost computation, value representation, action selection) and cognition-emotion interactions (e.g., memory, attention) predict the severity of negative symptoms using a variety of methods. More recently, the lab is also investigating whether abnormalities in emotion and reward processing predict conversion to psychosis in adolescents and young adults at clinical-high risk for developing a psychotic disorder (i.e., the prodromal phase).
Laboratory: Clinical Affective Neuroscience Laboratory
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