Behavioral Neuroscience Lab

The Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory provides a diverse array of research opportunities for students who want to study rodent behavior and investigate the brain mechanisms that control these behaviors.

In general, the lab is interested in studying motivated behaviors when they occur adaptively, such as during food seeking and eating, and also when these motivated behaviors become problematic, like during addiction.

Even before using drugs, preclinical (i.e. animal) research indicates behavior AND brain differences between individuals who go on to engage in addiction-related behaviors and those who will not. These addiction-related behaviors include 1) increased motivation for rewards and for the environmental stimuli associated with those rewards (e.g. Pavlovian conditioned cues) and 2) reward-seeking and consumption despite negative consequences (e.g. risk-taking behaviors, behavioral inflexibility). Importantly, these behavior and brain differences are evident even prior to drug use in food reward paradigms, and we seek to understand the neurobiological mechanisms that are different between these individuals.

The main research areas include:

  • Individual differences
  • Reward learning that can predict addiction vulnerability
  • Motivation
  • Behavioral flexibility - changing our behaviors when necessary
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Binge drinking
  • Neuroanatomy - the structure of the brain
  • Neuropsychopharmacology - how drugs affect the brain and thus behavior

The behaviors above can be combined with neuroscience manipulation techniques, such as lesions and pharmacology, to investigate the necessity and involvement of different brain regions (e.g. the amygdala, hypothalamus, nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, and prefrontal cortex) and/or neurochemicals of interest (e.g. dopamine, orexin, serotonin, just to name a few!).

For more insight into the research interest of the lab, please explore Professor Keefer’s previous publications.