The overall goal of research in my laboratory is to understand how behavior is shaped by the interplay of the brain, hormones, and the environment. Current projects fall under one of two themes:
- Sex differences in neuropeptide regulation of adolescent social development. Adolescence comprises the formative years during which individuals reach sexual maturity and develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills necessary to assume adult status in the community. Many sex differences in the brain and behavior arise during this period, including sex differences in susceptibility, onset, and severity of neuropsychiatric and behavioral disorders (e.g. autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). My laboratory seeks to understand the underlying roots of these sex differences by studying the role of neuropeptides (e.g. vasopressin and oxytocin) and pubertal hormones in the development of social behaviors. Typical behaviors we study include social play behavior and ultrasonic vocalizations of rats and hamsters.
- Impact of the social environment on biological rhythms. Social cues enable animals to synchronize their behaviors to achieve common goals or to avoid each other to lessen competition for resources. The mechanisms by which these cues impact behavioral timing are not understood. We track individual locomotor activity and body temperature rhythms of group-housed mice and hamsters to understand the role of the circadian system in the temporal organization of animal couples and communities.