Oklahoma State University REU Site:
Biological Basis of Human and Animal Behavior
The goal of this program is to provide 12 undergraduate students with an in-depth, hands-on research experience focused on the biological basis of human and animal behavior. Students will be trained in the application of the scientific method to develop hypotheses, design and conduct research studies involving either animal or human subjects. Students will also be trained in the responsible conduct of research. Students will be mentored by full-time, Ph.D.-level faculty members who are tenured/tenure-track faculty with strong programs of research. This program is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (SMA 1063091).
Program dates: June 1, 2013-July 27, 2013
Application deadline: February 15, 2013
To be eligible, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree before fall 2013 are NOT eligible for the program. Only Students selected for the program will be expected to devote at least 40 hours a week for research; thus, it is NOT possible to be enrolled in courses or other activities during the program.
Each student will reside in a campus dormitory (at no cost to the student) and receive $500 per week to cover food and other living expenses. Students will receive a $500 travel stipend to pay for their travel to and from campus and a $500 additional stipend, if students present research at an academic conference.
1. Online application [Click Here]
2. Unofficial transcript (see online application)
2. A Personal Statement (see online application)
3. One letter of recommendation from a faculty member (see online application)
In order for one’s application to be complete, the transcript, personal statement, and letter of recommendation must be received by February 15, 2013.
Available Mentors for Summer 2013
Biological Basis of Animal Behavior
My research investigates the central control of body fluid regulation, with a particular focus on estrogen-mediated sex differences in body fluid regulation. I use neuroanatomical, physiological, and behavioral methods to examine central pathways and neurotransmitter systems involved in body fluid regulation. Ongoing studies are exploring estrogen effects on central neural responses to loss of body fluid volume, as well as to challenges to body sodium levels. These studies examine activity in phenotypically-identified neurons in central areas involved in body fluid regulation; the contribution of peripheral signals to activity in these areas; the functional connectivity among neurons in these areas; and compensatory behavioral responses, such as salt intake, water intake, to perturbations of body sodium or body fluid volume. The overall goals of these studies are to determine whether specific subpopulations of neurons are differentially activated by and/or mediate responses to body fluid challenges, and how estrogen influences activity in these neuronal populations. Recently, we also have begun to examine the effect of exercise and body fluid challenges on stress/anxiety responses, and how estrogen may influence those responses.
For the past decade my research has focused on the social behavior of prairie voles. This species is among the few mammalian species that, like humans, form long-term bonds between the male and the female that comprise a mated pair. My collaborators and I have found that the brain processes that underlie pair-bond formation also are involved in substance abuse, and surprisingly, may play a critical role in the development and expression of autism.
When prairie voles form pair-bonds, their brains are changed, and, as a result, when confronted with an unfamiliar individual, they exhibit aversive responses rather than the affiliative response seen in non-pair-bonded voles. In other words, these animals respond negatively to a novel social interaction, and display a social aversion akin to that seen in autistic children.
In a seemingly unrelated line of research, one of my colleagues has shown that exposure to metals can change the brain in ways that, in voles, might produce the changes in social behavior that follow pair-bonding – an aversive response to social novelty.
We have combined the metals exposure and prairie voles to produce an excellent animal model in which to study environmental triggers of autism. Using this model, we have produced in an animal model, two of the core characteristics of autism – social aversion and a bias toward males. When voles are given a choice between an empty cage and a cage containing another vole, metals-treated male voles avoid tend to avoid social contact. Importantly, the changes in social behavior do not occur in females. Further, we have been able to link the changes in behavior to a specific brain region and neurotransmitter system. Metals treatment also alters responses to amphetamine, again, only in males, implicating the mesolimbic dopamine system in the response to metals exposure.
We now are expanding this model to take into account other aspects of autism. For example, autism is a childhood-onset disorder and thus, to be of maximum value, we will need to model perinatal influences on subsequent social behavior. In perhaps the most exciting result to date, it appears that perinatal exposure to metals produces the same male-biased changes in social behavior seen in other metals-treated voles – despite the fact that pups do not receive further metals exposure during the months between weaning and behavioral testing.
We employ a range of techniques in studying voles’ social behavior and autism including detailed behavioral analysis, microdialysis, western blotting, immunocytochemistry, high performance liquid chromatography, in situ hybridization, and protein binding assays.
Dr. Grindstaff’s research focuses on the long-term effects of the maternal and developmental environments on offspring behavior and physiology, using songbirds as model systems. Previous mammalian research has demonstrated that infection or inflammation early in life is associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment, particularly in learning and memory tasks. Bacterial infection during development has even been associated with impaired learning and memory after a subsequent challenge in adulthood. Dr. Grindstaff’s lab is investigating the physiological basis for learning and memory deficits associated with antigen challenge in birds, the ability of mothers to ameliorate the effects of antigen challenge, and the potential implications for mate choice decisions. A second line of research in the lab is focused on animal personalities, which are consistent behavioral differences among individual animals across contexts. This research addresses how animal personalities regulate interactions between species in competitive interactions, the physiological and developmental basis of animal personalities, and the life history trade-offs associated with different behavioral strategies. Students in the REU program may participate in lab research utilizing a captive colony of zebra finches or may participate in field research on Eastern bluebirds.
Research in the Lovern Lab focuses on animal behavior and the developmental, physiological, and social factors that can influence its expression. A recurring theme in our work is how hormones like testosterone and corticosterone can impact behavior at all life stages. Our most commonly used animal model is the green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis), but we address questions of interest using other reptilian models as well. Students working in my laboratory have the opportunity to design and conduct studies addressing, for example, reproductive or aggressive behavior in adults, sex and season differences in behavior, or development of behavior in juveniles. Students could address such questions within the context of individual learning and memory, stress responses, or maternal effects on offspring traits. Finally, students have the opportunity to investigate hormonal effects within their studies by learning techniques for hormone manipulation in eggs, juveniles, or adults, sample collection, and hormone analysis, in addition to the behavioral techniques they will use in accomplishing their research objectives.
A central goal of Ophir’s research is to understand the proximate control and the ultimate consequences of social behavior. To this end, research in the Ophir lab utilizes classic field and laboratory techniques in combination with modern molecular tools, and mathematical models. The research in the Ophir lab explores existing individual variation in behavior and the underlying mechanisms that mediate mating systems, such as monogamy (e.g. partner fidelity, territory defense, offspring survival, and alternative reproductive tactics). This research specifically focuses on two general areas of study. First, we focus on the neuropeptides vasopressin and oxytocin, and their receptors in multiple social domains to examine the roles of specific brain regions in coordinating social recognition and diverse attributes of temperament related to attachment, aggression, and care-giving. The Ophir lab is also interested in understanding how pollutants, such as heavy metals, may disrupt the neural mechanisms that mediate social behavior. Overall, we hope to better understand the substrates of social cognition, socio-emotional behavior, mating strategies and consequences of paternal care on offspring development.
Acoustic communication is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of social behavior. A second major line of study in the Ophir lab is to understand the constraints that have shaped acoustic communication across the animal kingdom. Here we take a meta-analysis approach, where we have compiled the largest database of acoustic animal communication, developed math-based models of communication that are based on energetics and animal metabolism, and test models’ predictions against the database. This work aims to provide the first unified theory of animal communication, an area of research has captivated scientists for centuries, yet still lacks cohesive, kingdom-wide, theory in most respects.
Both lines of research are amenable to work with undergraduates, who serve a crucial role in the Ophir lab. To date, five undergraduate students have been authors on published papers, and two more are authors on manuscripts in preparation.
Biological Basis of Human Behavior
Dr. Byrd-Craven’s research focuses on the biological basis of human behavior, specifically on understanding the development of the biological stress response and its relationship to behavior, social cognition, and health outcomes. The development of the stress response is shaped, in part, by developmental history. Peer relationships are increasingly important in adolescence and early adulthood, and are another context responsible for shaping the stress response. The goal of the research is to understand how social dynamics impact the reactivity of the stress response and related physical and psychological outcomes. Experiments utilize measurements of hormonal stress responses and behavioral observations.
She plans to continue ongoing projects examining how the stress response systems react to competitive and cooperative interactions, looking specifically at sex differences. Another ongoing project focuses on individual differences in stress responses at different levels of social hierarchies in adolescents. Both projects will use cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase to measure the stress response, and students will gain skills in conducting these assays.
Dr. Giddens studies both normal and pathological neuromotor functions, particularly as they relate to voice and oral-motor function. She is currently continuing study of the effects of rehabilitation upon swallow, vocal, and oral motor function in Huntington's disease and is collaborating with the OSU Department of Psychology to document the effects of rehabilitation on psycho-emotional and cognitive-linguistic function in disease-sufferers. Dr. Giddens has collaborated with faculty at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in the study of sleep apnea/gastroesophageal reflux disease and its effects upon the larynx. In addition, with help of collaborators at Saint Anthony Hospital, Oklahoma City, and the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Dr. Giddens has studied and continues to examine sympathetic nervous system function at the larynx and its impact on vocal control. Dr. Giddens intends to continue work in Huntington's Disease and to begin new study in normal voice, including continuation of a previously conducted pilot study examining the effects of the menstrual cycle upon the acoustic and aerodynamic properties of the voice.
Dr. Kennison is conducting research on the hemispheric differences in word and sentence processing. This is an exciting new area of research for her lab. The central objective of the proposed research is to determine the roles of the left and right hemispheres of the brain during language processing. The research will test the central hypothesis that there is greater right hemisphere involvement in both visual perception and oral production of words learned early in life than words learned later in life. The laboratory has produced multiple studies providing strong support this hypothesis. Multiple manuscripts are under review and in preparation. We are eager to conduct studies in English as well as other languages. Students interested in studying bilingual language processing are especially encouraged to apply.
Dr. Thomas' research is currently involved with nutrients and neurotoxicants and their relation to cognitive development in infancy. Dr. Thomas and his collaborators in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at OSU are finishing up collecting data from over 100 mothers and infants in Oklahoma. This large study investigates iron, zinc, vitamin D, lead, and cadmium in mothers and how they influence the cognitive development in breast-fed infants. Other data from mothers include stress indices and parenting attitudes as well as demographic and socioeconomic measures. Infant data include event-related brain potentials (ERPs), visual habituation, heart rate during the visual habituation task, and growth measures. Our group is now beginning to analyze this large and complex data set, a task that will carry us through the summer and beyond. Summer students can help code the physiological data (ERPs and heart rate) and/or explore the massive amount of data that we have.
J. Michael Bowers, Ph.D.
The focus of our research is to investigate how communication between conspecifics, both vocal and non-vocal, is essential to fitness at both the individual and species level. We also take an additional perspective on this question by investigating sex differences in communication. To address these questions, we examine rodent vocal and non-vocal behaviors using the rat as a model system. We use state-of-the-art equipment to record and analyze the acoustic parameters of female and male vocalizations. We also synchronize our audio recordings with video in order to observe and quantify non-vocal behaviors across the lifespan. Currently, we are building a database to categorize the behaviorally relevant vocalizations of male and female rats in a variety of social contexts ranging from maternal care to sex behavior. Students interested in our program of research can expect to become familiar with the identification and analysis of vocal communication as well as identification of rodent non-vocal behaviors.