Human Neuroscience

Human Neuroscience

The Department of Human Development at Cornell University has a research training program in Human Neuroscience, which incorporates three neuroscience areas: cognitive, social, and affective-emotional processes. The program offers many opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study.  Program faculty incorporate four major neuroscience methods in their research: Neuroimaging with MRI, EEG and Psychophysiology, Genotyping, and Pharmacological Challenge of Neurotransmitter Function. The populations of research focus cover the life span, from infancy to processes of aging.

Core Program Faculty

Adam Anderson, Associate Professor, Human Development

Although emotions are central to our lives, we tend to view them as failures of our better rational selves.  Our research considers all emotions as evolutionarily selected biological adaptations, having their own rationality intended to help us navigate the physical and social environment. We apply this approach to all aspects of human behavior, from sensory encoding to moral judgment, using various research tools including genetics, psychophysics, peripheral psychophysiology and functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Todd R.M., Müller, D.J., Lee, D.H. Robertson, A., Eaton, T., Freeman, N., Palombo, D.J., Levine B., & A.K. Anderson. (in press). Genes for emotion enhanced remembering are linked to enhanced perceiving. Psychological Science

Chapman, H.A. & Anderson, A.K. (2013). Things rank and gross in nature: A review and synthesis of moral disgust. Psychological Bulletin, 139(2), 300-327.

Farb NAS, Segal ZV, & Anderson AK (2013). Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of respiratory related activity. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 8(1):15-26

Todd RM, Talmi D, Schmitz TW, Susskind J, Anderson AK. (2012) Psychophysical and neural evidence for emotion-enhanced perceptual vividness. Journal of Neuroscience 15;32(33):11201-12.

Charles Brainerd, Professor, Human Development and Program in Law, Psychology, and Human Development

Research in my lab currently focuses on genetic risk factors for brain atrophy and memory decline in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.  A mathematical model that integrates these variables has been developed.  The alleles of the main genetic predictor of MCI and AD, the APOE genotype, are being mapped with three specific retrieval processes (recollection, reconstruction, and familiarity judgment) that control episodic memory.  These mappings yield enhanced prediction of future disease in healthy individuals.

Brainerd, C.J., Reyna, V.F., Petersen, R.C., Smith, G.E., & Taub, E.S. (2011). Is the apolipoprotein E genotype a biomarker for mild cognitive impairment? Findings from a nationally representative study.  Neuropsychology, 25, 679-689. doi:10.1037/a0024483

Brainerd, C. J., Reyna, V. F., Petersen, R. G., Smith, G. E., Kenney, A. E., Gross, C. J., Taub, E. S., Plassman, B. L., & Fisher, G. G.  (in press).  The apolipoprotein E genotype predicts longitudinal transitions to mild cognitive impairment but not to Alzheimer's dementia: Findings from a nationally representative study.  Neuropsychology.

Richard Depue, Professor, Human Development 

My work is on the neurobiology and neurochemistry associated with the traits of personality, emotion, and cognition. Psychobiological systems underlying personality are modulated pharmacologically in humans, and the sensitivity of the responses is assessed hormonally, emotionally, motorically, and cognitively. The work has direct implications for personality disorders and disorders of affect. Currently, the role of polymorphisms in mu-opiate and oxytocin receptor genes in the reward that underlies social bonding is being studied.

Fu, Y, Selcuk, E., Schweitzer, P, & Depue, R. (under review). Variation in mu-opiate (OPRM1), but not oxytocin (rs53576), receptor genes mediate the soft touch-induced reward that supports conditioning to a human face: Implications for human social bonding.

Selcuk, E., Fu, Y, Gul, G, Moore, S., Schweitzer, P., & Depue, R. (under review). Effects of human soft tactile stimulation on heat tolerance are mediated by variation in  mu-opiate (OPRM1), but not oxytocin (rs53576), receptor genes.

Depue, R.A., and Fu, Y. (in press). On the nature of extraversion: Variation in conditioned contextual activation of dopamine (methylphenicate)-facilitated affective, cognitive, and motor processes. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. This article was selected by Frontiers for special media promotion.

Depue, RA., and Fu, Y. (2011). The Neurobiology of personality: Implications for conceptualizing personality disorders as dimensional, multifactorial phenomena. International Review of Psychiatry 23: 258–281. (Special Issue: Neurobiology & Neurochemistry of Personality & Personality Disorders).

Depue, R.A., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J (2005). Neurobehavioral foundation of affiliative bonding: Implications for a human trait of affiliation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Target Article) 28:313-395.

Depue, R.A., & Collins, P. (1999).  Neurobiology of the structure of personality: Dopamine, facilitation of incentive motivation, and extraversion.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Target Article) 22: 491-569.

Eve De Rosa, Associate Professor, Human Development

My work concerns comparative cognitive neuroscience, which is characterized by two related approaches. One is a cross-species approach, comparing rat models of the neurochemistry of attention and learning to humans, focusing on the neurochemical acetylcholine. The other is an across lifespan approach, examining the cholinergic hypothesis of age-related changes in cognition. In particular, we consider the neurochemistry of cognitive processes. In humans, we examine the contributions of the cholinergic basal forebrain, the major source of the neurochemical acetylcholine to the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, to normal cognition. Also in humans, we employ behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques in populations associated with cholinergic deficiency. Finally, in rats, we employ pharmacological and cholinergic immunotoxic lesioning techniques. 

Botly, L.C.P. & De Rosa, E. (2012) Using visual search to examine cholinergic contributions to feature binding in the rat. Cerebral Cortex, 22, 2441-2453

Schmitz, T.W., Cheng, F. & De Rosa, E. (2010) Failing to ignore: Paradoxical neural effects of perceptual load on early attentional selection in normal aging. Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 14750-8

Botly, L.C.P. & De Rosa, E. (2008) Acetylcholine, attention, and feature binding: A cross-species investigation. Psychological Science, 19, 1185-93

Valerie Reyna, Professor, Human Development 

I am a developer of fuzzy-trace theory, a model of memory and decision-making, widely applied in law, medicine, and public health. My recent work has focused on numeracy, medical decision making, risk communication, risk taking, neuroimaging, neurobiological models of development, and neurocognitive impairment and genetics. My most recent book is The adolescent brain: Learning, reasoning, and decision making.

Reyna, V. F., & Brainerd, C. J. (2011).  Dual processes in decision making and developmental neuroscience: A fuzzy-trace model.  Developmental Review, 31,180-206. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2011.07.004

Reyna, V.F., Chapman, S., Dougherty, M., & Confrey, J. (Eds.). (2012). The adolescent brain: Learning, reasoning, and decision making.  Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Reyna, V. F., Estrada, S. M., DeMarinis, J. A., Myers, R. M., Stanisz, J. M., & Mills, B. A. (2011). Neurobiological and memory models of risky decision making in adolescents versus young adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(5), 1125-1142. doi:10.1037/a0023943

Steven Robertson, Professor Human Development 

The main focus of my current research is infant visual foraging, an important means by which young infants explore and learn about their environment. This work has three components: (1) The dynamic integration of attention, gaze, and body movement during visual foraging, particularly the role of covert spatial attention to peripheral locations as reflected in the amplitude modulation of steady state visual evoked potentials. (2) Stochastic dynamical models of free looking behavior, in collaboration with John Guckenheimer in the Department of Mathematics. (3) The relation between individual differences in measures of visual foraging in the first few months after birth and attention problems in childhood.

Robertson SS, Watamura SE, Wilbourn MP. (2012). Attentional dynamics of infant visual foraging. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 109: 11460-4.

Watamura SE, Coe CL, Laudenslager M, Robertson SS. (2010). Child care setting affects salivary cortisol and antibody secretion in young children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2010, 35: 1156-66.

Robertson SS, Johnson SL. (2009). Embodied infant attention. Dev Sci, 12: 297-304.

Robertson SS, Guckenheimer J, Bacher LF, Masnick AM. (2004). The dynamics of infant visual foraging. Dev Sci, 7: 194-200.

Nathan Spreng, Assistant Professor, Human Development

My research examines large-scale brain network dynamics and their role in cognition. Currently, I am investigating the link between autobiography and imagination, how we conceive of the future, and successful navigation of the social world. These investigations extend to the related processes of memory, cognitive control, and social cognition and the interacting brain networks that support them. I am also actively involved in the development and implementation of multivariate and network-based statistical approaches to assess brain activity. In doing so, I hope to better understand the properties of the brain networks underlying complex cognitive processes as they change across the lifespan.

Spreng, R.N., Mar, R.A. & Kim, A.S.N. (2009). The common neural basis of autobiographical memory, prospection, navigation, theory of mind and the default mode: A quantitative meta-analysis. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 489-510.

Spreng, R.N., Stevens, W.D., Chamberlain, J., Gilmore, A.W. & Schacter, D.L. (2010). Default network activity, coupled with the frontoparietal control network, supports goal-directed cognition. NeuroImage, 53, 303-317.

Spreng, R.N. & Schacter, D.L. (2012). Default network modulation and large-scale network interactivity in healthy young and old adults. Cerebral Cortex, 22, 2610-2621.

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Related Faculty

Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, Professor, Psychology

Hormones and Behavior, hormonal and neuroanatomical technologies in the study of the development of reproductive behavior of mammals.

Gary Evans, Professor, Design and Environmental Analysis

Psychobiology of Stress, hormonal and immunological reactivity to environmental, economic, and interpersonal stress.  Poverty and Development.

Barbara Finlay, Professor, Psychology/Neurobiology and Behavior

I take an approach to the structure and function of the vertebrate nervous system that is both developmental and evolutionary.  Brains change in a highly constrained coordinated fashion as they enlarge, which can be related to a highly conserved sequence of structural development. Late-generated structures become disproportionately large in an extremely predictable fashion. This strengthens the case for viewing the cerebral cortex as a general-purpose learning device rather than a collection of specially-adapted mechanisms, a view that reflects on the nature of human cognition.

Vivian Zayas, Professor, Psychology

My research examines the cognitive-affective processes that regulate behaviors within close relationships. I approach the study of the individual and his/her relationships from a multilevel, interdisciplinary perspective that bridges the study of attachment processes with research on executive control and self-regulation. I integrate this research in a unifying framework.

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Supporting Facilities, Institutes, and Centers

Cornell MRI Facility
Valerie Reyna, Co-Director 

The Cornell MRI Facility is a state-of-the-art research-dedicated facility and is equipped with a GE Discovery MR750 3.0T scanner. It is a university-wide resource located on the ground floor of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall (in which the Department of Human Development is located). The facility provides noninvasive imaging for a wide range of structural and functional investigations, including human neuroscience. 

Human Neuroscience Institute
Valerie Reyna, Director 

The Human Neuroscience Institute promotes and facilitates neuroscience research and educational programs in the Department of Human Development in order to advance our understanding of the neural basis of human behavior across the life span. The Institute also communicates and extends the results of the Department's neuroscience research to inform interventions that improve health and well-being. 

Cornell Program in Neuroscience 

Neuroscience at Cornell University, Ithaca campus, emphasizes an integrated and interdisciplinary approach that spans these levels of analysis. The research of our faculty encompasses neuroscience from human cognition to biophysics, including diverse experimental and computational approaches using a variety of model organisms. 

Cornell Core Facility for DNA Sequencing and Genotyping 

Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research
Valerie Reyna, Co-Director 

The Behavioral Economics and Decision Research (BEDR) Center brings together scholars from across the Cornell University Campus with shared interests in judgment, decision making, and behavioral economics.

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Program Courses

  • Genetic, Neurochemical, and Epigenetic Processes and Individual Differences (Depue)
  • Psychobiology of Temperament & Personality (Depue)
  • Affective and Social Neuroscience (Depue, Anderson)
  • Translational Research in Memory and Neuroscience (Brainerd)
  • Introduction to functional MRI analysis for human neuroimaging (Spreng)
  • Human Brain and Mind: An introduction to cognitive neuroscience (Spreng)
  • Neuroscience of Aging (Brainerd, De Rosa, Reyna)
  • Neurochemistry of Human Behavior (De Rosa)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience (Finlay)
  • Developmental Psychobiology (Finlay)
  • Risk and Rational Decision Making (Reyna)
  • Translational Research in Decision Making (Reyna)
  • Adolescent Brain (Reyna)
  • Human Growth & Development: Biology & Behavioral Interactions (Robertson)
  • ADHD in Children (Robertson)
  • Integration of Attention and Motion (Robertson)
  • Social Relationships and Attachment (Zayas)
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Undergraduate Opportunities and Graduate Admissions

Professor Richard A. Depue
Program in Human Neuroscience
Department of Human Development
MVR Hall, Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853