dcsimg
GET MATCHED TO A SCHOOL
In Seconds
Where do you want to take classes?
Online
Campus
Either
When would you like to start?
What's your zip code?
GO ›
What degree are you interested in?
GO ›
You're almost there...
Processing your information

What is Behavioral Neuroscience?

Learn about the field of behavioral neuroscience

behavioral neuroscience

Two mothers stand talking at a school event, one the mother of a 16-year-old girl, the other a mother of a 16-year-old son. The two teenagers have been friends since grade-school, have grown up together, paralleled each other in grades, sports, and social skills – except for the last year or two when the mother of the son notices some major behavioral differences between the two teens.

This mother notices that her son is more impulsive, making decisions that verge on more risky behaviors. And he doesn’t take his grades or college entrance exams too seriously, too self-assured that he’ll get into “some” college. He is disorganized, forgetting homework assignments and upcoming tests, and struggles with planning ahead on long-term projects.

For many teens, the gap between girls’ maturity levels and boys’ is wide, as girls seem to organize themselves better, plan ahead for deadlines – simply focus better and know how to strategize to achieve desired results.

Other parents overhearing this conversation wouldn’t be all that surprised. This isn’t a salacious, newsworthy story. Many parents have similar stories. But for a behavioral neuroscientist who happens to be within earshot, this conversation would be highly intriguing.

In fact, a behavioral neuroscientist would probably be taking mental notes, thinking about the specific behaviors associated with each teen. If the scientist happens to focus his or her research on the brain’s frontal cortex, this scientist would probably have some worthwhile input as well.

Psychology

The field of Behavioral Neuroscience focuses on the biology of behavior, combining the psychology of perception, learning, memory, cognition, motivation and emotion with underlying neural and physiological processes. A behavioral neuroscientist would be able to share the latest research on teen behaviors and the connection of these behaviors to brain biology – some of the most popular and groundbreaking research taking place in the field today.

The Prefrontal Cortex

In 1999, the National Research Council, an organization committed to scientific research and providing elected leaders, policy makers, and the public with results from empirically based studies, stated that one of the most remarkable discoveries over the last decade was the amount of change that occurs in the adolescent brain. (see Adolescence Developmental Psychology).

Since that time, behavioral neuroscientists have found even more evidence of rapid brain growth and change among teens, specifically in the area of the frontal cortex. In general, these scientists have found that girls’ brains mature faster than boys.

Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, has found other remarkable events related to frontal cortex. His research finds that the frontal lobes, the part of the brain responsible for the executive functions of judgment, organization, planning, and strategizing, thickens throughout childhood until about age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys. Then at puberty, this gray matter starts changing. In particular, the gray matter of the frontal lobes starts thinning or pruning.

In an online interview with PBS’s Frontline, Giedd hypothesizes that only the neurons and connections that are used during this pruning stage will be the ones to survive - hence the “use it or lose it” adage.

Giedd states in the interview: “If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

Giedd also goes on to say that other differences between the brains of adolescent girls and boys are also apparent to brain researchers. The basal ganglia, located at the base of the brain that communicates with other brain areas such as the frontal lobe, is larger in girls than boys. This might explain why girls tend to do better than boys with higher executive functioning skills.

Nurture Your Children Well

Nurturing children in early life has a direct impact on their social behaviors later in life, according to a study published in the online journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. (see also Childhood Developmental Psychology).

Two researchers found that by altering early social experiences in prairie voles significantly altered adult relationships and behaviors such as bonding, trust, and social awareness.

The research was conducted by Todd Ahern, a graduate student at Emory University in the Neuroscience Program, and Larry Young, Ph.D. professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Yerkes Research Center and Emory University School of Medicine.

The two studied vole pups - small, highly social rodents – reared by single mothers (SM) and both parents (BP).

The SM and BP-reared voles received differing levels of neonatal care, creating different social bonding levels as adults. BP pups entered into life-long partnerships faster than SM-reared pups, and also showed more interest in nurturing other voles in their communal families.

Oxytocin levels were also different between the two groups of voles. The researchers believe that the altering levels of oxytocin, a hormone found in the brain that influences maternal labor and suckling, also has a direct effect on adult social behaviors, and plan to examine that relationship in more studies.

Voles were chosen for the study because they often establish life-long bonds with mates.

Additional areas of research

In addition to studying normal biological brain development and associated behaviors, behavior neuroscientists also study the connection between brain dysfunction and medical illnesses, and environmental and cultural factors associated with brain function.

For example, they have linked abnormalities in the basal ganglia with Parkinson’s disease and Huntington disease. In addition to these two disorders, behavioral neuroscientists study:

Studies are wide ranging, and use mainly non-human species that have biological similarities to humans. In the last few years, however, more behavioral neuroscientists are using human subjects to conduct research, especially when employing neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. (for more info, see neuroimaging)

Here are some of the studies contributed to by behavioral neuroscientists. These examples were reported in the online journal ScienceDaily.

  • Emory University researchers have found that the prelimbic cortex - part of the prefrontal cortex - is possibly involved with fear and anxiety, a finding that could aid in the diagnosis of and treatment for anxiety, panic disorders, and phobias.
  • A University of Toronto study displayed the areas of the brain where emotional fear, memory, and pain become permanently etched.
  • A team of Chinese researchers and a University of Oregon psychologist has found that training in a meditation technique produces structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a brain area that helps a person regulate goal-setting behaviors.
  • A study published in “Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology” shows the effects of alcohol intoxication on reasoning and problem-solving abilities. For the first time, the study also points to a reason why some individuals, still intoxicated, feel they have recovered enough to drive after drinking.
  • A researcher from Tel Aviv University has developed a new tool for use in studying mice that carry a mutated gene that leads to a disease called vanishing white matter (VWM), an illness that destroys brain myelin.
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital found that a gene called Prox1 plays a major role in the normal development of a brain structure (see Brain Structure) critical for learning and memory, a gene that nurtures the cells vital for making new memories and which stays active throughout the lifespan.

How to become a behavioral neuroscientist

Classes in psychology, biology, math, computer programming, cell biology and chemistry are needed to enter graduate school in this field. Classes in behavioral neuroscience, such as the relationships between behavior and the brain, hormones and/or drugs are also good electives.

As an undergraduate, research experience gained through working with a faculty member in his or her laboratory is highly recommended. (explore bachelor degree programs in psychology)

Behavioral Neuroscientists usually focus their research within a specific topic area. Usually a Ph.D. is required for this type of work. However, those with master’s degrees can find work assisting another scientist in running his or her laboratory. Many pharmaceutical laboratories also hire those with master’s degrees.

Receiving a degree in psychology is excellent preparation for a career as a behavioral neuroscientist. Check out schools offering degrees in psychology for more information.

Digital Behaviors and The Brain

Five neuroscientists decided to test their own brain-behavior relationship in a rather unorthodox adventure: taking a trip for one week to the wilderness in order to understand what happens to brains when disconnected from digital devices.

New York Times reporter Matt Richtel chronicled the adventure, and wrote of it in an August 15, 2010 article for the Times. All five researchers study and research areas of brain-behavior relationships, specifically how the brain functions in terms of attention (see Attention), memory, and learning.

The scientists spent a week in May 2010 rafting on the San Juan River, and camping in remote areas of Utah where cellphone service is unavailable and e-mail wasn’t available. They were asked to leave their laptops behind. They wanted to understand how technology changes how people think and behave, and if a week of rest and relaxation in nature could possibly reverse technology’s impact.

The trip’s organizer, University of Utah’s David Strayer, said in the article that too much digital stimulation can “take people who would be functioning okay and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy.”

Strayer and University of Kansas researcher Paul Atchley study compulsive cellphone use by adolescents. Both were proponents for the trip and its implications, stating that heavy use of technology inhibits deep thought and can provoke anxiety, and retreating to nature helps negate those effects.

But the most prominent scientist, University of Illinois researcher Art Kramer was a skeptic. He is head of the Beckman Institute, a position that pays an annual salary of $300,000 and requires directing 1,000 other scientists. On the drive to the river, this scientist was checking his Blackberry for a message on news of a $25 million military grant. He told his staff to send a text message to an emergency satellite phone if they heard before he returned from the trip.

The others asserted this isn’t something that can’t wait a few days to receive. They maintain that it’s this type of “urgent” thinking around digital information that distracts individuals and impacts focus.

As the trip progressed, the men camped alongside the river, drank beer, and had long, introspective talks about current brain research addressing how people learn better after being out in nature. As they kayaked, they discussed better ways to study the effects of constant e-mail and cellphone interruptions. They pondered whether attention and focus are affected by simply anticipating incoming digital messages.

They took strenuous hikes, and observed animals and nature on the river’s banks. By the end of the second day of the trip, the skeptic Kramer hadn’t checked for messages – including the one about the grant - nor had he read the stack of papers he brought with him. He admitted that the group had notched down a level, becoming less tense, more relaxed, and more reflective.

The group’s leader Strayer called it the “third-day syndrome.” The article stated that even the more skeptical scientists on the trip said something happened to their brains on the trip that reinforced the scientific discussions – a finding that could be important to helping people cope amidst constant digital noise.

Finding a way to get people to unplug and relax will lead to more creativity, Strayer said. Going back to nature is one viable way to accomplish this.

By the trip’s end, Kramer still doesn’t feel like the trip transformed him, but he admitted something did get the scientists to think about their research in ways they wouldn’t have before. He does want to investigate further the benefits of nature on the brain, whether nature clears thoughts or if it’s a combination of the physical exertion combined with nature.

If anything, the neuroscientists felt that more creative, productive talk occurred than if they would have taken the more traditional academic “retreat” at a hotel or conference center.

Psychology Schools & Colleges
Refine School Matches
LOCATION
Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
SUBJECT

DEGREE

PROGRAM TYPE

START TIME

Showing 10 results
            Results open in new window
            Matching School Ads
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked 25th among the Best National Universities in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
            • One of the world’s leading private research universities.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 9:1, and 56.8% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has an average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, of 96.8 percent.
            • Dedicated to a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education since 1880.
            • Its faculty includes National Academy members, Nobel Laureates, MacArthur Fellows, and more.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            4 Program(s) Found

            Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

            • Online Courses
            5 Program(s) Found
            • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
            • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
            • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
            • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
            • Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found
            South University , High Point
            • Began in 1899 as Draughon’s Practical Business College.
            • Features campuses that are heavily engaged in their respective communities, providing professional service from students and faculty.
            • Offers financial aid, scholarships, and counseling for both active and post-duty military students.
            • Has 15 campuses across the United States, as well as 4 art institutes in North Carolina and Texas.
            • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            4 Program(s) Found
            • Several institutional scholarship opportunities are available to students who qualify.
            • Features several learning model options, including online, residency, and hybrid options.
            • Offers graduate degree programs in organizational leadership, mind-body medicine, psychology and human science.
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
            • Three teaching locations in Seattle, Washington and Houston, Texas, with the university headquarters located in San Francisco, California.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            5 Program(s) Found
            Argosy University , Online (campus option available)
            • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
            • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
            • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
            • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
            • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
            • Provides career services that help students find careers that match their interests and map out a personalized career plan.
            • Offers mentorships and networking opportunities through an Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
            • Has flexible start dates and class schedules.
            • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
            • Gives students the chance to earn credits for applicable military training and education.
            • Locations nationwide and online options.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Has students attend one four-week class at a time and take their final exam before moving on to their next class.
            • Offers 24/7 online tech support, with a typical response time of 4 hours or less.
            • Has online help centers that offer assistance with writing, statistics, medical assisting, and more.
            • Provides job placement assistance to all its students and alumni.
            • Researches trends for growing fields to tailor a more effective curriculum.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Accredited
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found
            • A private, non-sectarian four-year college with  online degree programs as well as campuses in Buffalo and Rochester, NY.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 14:1, and 46.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Each online course spans seven weeks, the same length as accelerated on-ground courses.
            • Offers active military a discounted tuition rate  for undergraduate programs.
            • Founded in 1875 by the Sisters of Saint Joseph as an institute for the preparation of teachers.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Accredited
            • Online Courses
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
            • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
            • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
            • Has a network of 26 campuses.

            Please Call 855-816-4008 to speak to a customer representative.

            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Accelerated Programs
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits