Neuroscience and Behavior Program

Jamie Longwell
Graduate Admissions Coordinator
238 Burnett Hall

Core Faculty

Robert Belli

Rick A. Bevins

Matthew Johnson

Daniel Leger

Ming Li

Dennis L. Molfese

Maital Neta

Jeffrey R. Stevens

Scott Stoltenberg

Graduate Students

Catherine Brown

Cindy Chou

Christa Christ

Juan Duque

Emily Johnson

Kathleen Kelsey

Patrick Ledwidge

Amy Ort

Michelle Petracca

Steven Pittenger

Amanda Struthers

Grace Sullivan

Mengjiao Zhang

Area Adviser: Dr. Ming Li


Welcome to the homepage of the Neuroscience and Behavior Ph.D. Program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Broadly speaking, faculty research interests include animal communication, comparative cognition, learning and memory, executive function, memory suggestibility, drug abuse, genetic basis of addiction, antipsychotic drugs, animal models of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. We pride ourselves on a low student to faculty ratio where graduate students work very closely with faculty on research projects. In addition to this close mentoring model, we are able to offer highly individualized programs of study that can be tailored to fit the student's interest and career goals.

Along with tailoring graduate training to fit the research and career goals of the trainee, students are exposed through instruction and collaboration to interdisciplinary and translational approaches to many of the pressing question in the study of neuroscience and behavior. Such training is enhanced through our affiliations with Eppley Cancer Center at University of Nebraska Medical Center and the VA Hospital; Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program in the School of Biological Sciences; the Behavioral Health Program of Excellence in Sociology; the Substance Abuse Research Cluster (SARC); the Systems Biology of Social Behavior group (SB2); the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior (CB3), as well as the many collaborations faculty have with other researchers throughout the globe.


The faculty in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program welcome applications from students with undergraduate majors in psychology as well as those from a variety of related areas, such as animal science, biology, neuroscience, pharmacology. Successful applicants to our program typically have previous research experience with experimental animals (rats, mice) or are familiar with human research. Because of the diverse research interests of our faculty members, applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the faculty members with whom they are most likely to work and identify them in their application.


Like other programs, the Neuroscience and Behavior program offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Psychology. Typically, all graduate students are admitted directly into the doctoral program, but earn the Master’s degree as part of their Ph.D. program.

Graduate training is governed by the Graduate Chair and the Graduate Executive Committee. Upon admission, each graduate student is assigned an advisor in the program. A doctoral Supervisory Committee is approved for each student by the Graduate Executive Committee prior to the completion of 50% of the student’s course work. A Supervisory Committee must include at least three members consisting of professors from our department, as well as at least one member consisting of a professor from a department outside of our department. The Supervisory Committee has responsibility for designing the student’s program of study and supervising the implementation of that program through the completion of comprehensive examinations and/or other approved demonstration of mastery of the discipline and the doctoral dissertation project.

Typical course work for incoming students with a Bachelor's degree includes a two course sequence in research methods and data analysis (typically PSYC 941, 942) and any training relevant psychology pro-seminars and seminars offered by the department, such as Proseminar in Physiological Psychology, Animal Cognition, Behavior Genetics, Psychoneuropharmacology, Learning processes, Neurobiology of Drug Abuse, Psychology of Decision Making, etc. Given the diversity of research and student interests, additional course work may include specialized reading courses, as well as other core courses offered in other departments.  For example, students specializing in animal behavior might take one or more of the core courses in the School of Biological Sciences’ program in Ecology, Evolution, or Behavior.  Students specializing in behavioral neuroscience might take core courses in other departments that teach advanced pharmacology, neurobiology and immunology courses.  Students in the Neuroscience and Behavior program are required to be continuously engaged in research, which often includes three semester hours in a research course each semester (e.g., 975, 996).

To obtain a Master degree, a student typically chooses Option III. Under this option, the student must earn a minimum of 36 semester hours of credit, at least 18 of which must be earned in courses open exclusively to graduate students (900 or 800 level without 400 or lower counterparts). The program must include not fewer than 18 hours in the major. Visit the Graduate Bulletin for more information on options and for forms and deadlines.

Students with a Master's degree in a related area admitted in the PhD program will be able to transfer some coursework. Transfer credit is determined by UNL Office of Graduate Studies policy and the Neuroscience and Behavior faculty.

Because the Neuroscience and Behavior Ph.D. program is specifically designed to be flexible in terms of matching specific research interests of a given student, the specific course requirements beyond the core requirements of the Ph.D. program are determined by the students’ advisor along with a Supervisory Committee. All students will take directed readings in their specialty, as well as engage in research from the outset of their careers at UNL. The PhD program normally takes five years for completion. To meet the doctoral degree requirements, a student needs to complete 27 hours of graduate work within an 18-month period (15 of which must be presented that are not related to your master’s degree if you did your master’s work at UNL), finishes final examination (oral defense of dissertation work) and submit his/her dissertation at least three weeks before the final oral examination. For information on PhD requirements, visit Doctoral Degree Requirements.


All graduate students in the Neuroscience and Behavior program are supported by department teaching assistantships and/or by research assistantships from faculty grants. We provide a highly supportive environment that encourages students to also seek support through UNL scholarships and fellowships, as well as extramural agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


Coordinator: Dr. Robert Belli

For over 25 years, Dr. Belli has been exploring the role of suggestions in producing false memories, and the implications of false remembering in applied settings. In 2012, Dr. Belli established the Behavioral Research in Applied Cognitive Neuroscience (BRAiN) Laboratory to explore the neural correlates of cognitive processes that have applied implications, including an examination of individual differences in suggestibility. Our experiments include behavioral, eye-tracking, and electrophysiological data, and plans are to expand our repertoire to include neuroimaging data. We use a variety of paradigms to examine suggestibility, including those that involve semantic and perceptual confusions. Importantly, discovering neural correlates among individuals who vary in suggestibility has implications for psychopathology, legal psychology, and interpersonal relationships. At times, the impact of suggestibility is deleterious, and our research has the potential to develop interventions that will alleviate adverse impacts.

Coordinator: Dr. Rick A. Bevins

Research in the BEHAVIORAL NEUROPHARMACOLOGY LAB bridges areas of neuroscience, pharmacology, psychology, immunology, and animal learning and cognition. With the motivated effort of exceptional graduate and undergraduate students and the consistent support of the Psychology Department, the School of Biological Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, and extramural funding agencies such as NIH, we have made great progress in answering important questions related to drug abuse. In this research effort, we use preclinical animal models to understand factors involved in the development and maintenance of drug abuse. This research includes assessment of factors affecting the ability of drug cues to acquire new meaning and hence control over behavior. Other research effort focuses on novelty and sensation seeking, learned associations between environmental cues and abused drugs (source of cravings), and immunotherapy (vaccine) techniques against drug addiction. For more detail, we invite you to explore the laboratory via our website.

Coordinator: Dr. Matthew Johnson

Research in the REFLECTION, ATTENTION, AND PERCEPTION LAB focuses on the interplay between reflection (i.e., thoughts and memories originating in the internal world of the mind/brain) and perception (i.e., processing of sensory information from the external world), and how attention operates to shape the flow of cognitive and neural information processing in both domains. We use a combination of cognitive neuroscience methods (fMRI, EEG) and behavioral experiments (both in-lab and online) to address questions such as: How similar are the neural and cognitive mechanisms of attention when operating in the perceptual vs. reflective domains? How are brain regions traditionally called “visual” areas used to represent information during reflective activities such as mental imagery and working memory? How can acts of reflection influence later acts of perception (and vice versa)? Please see the lab website for more information on past research, publications, current projects, and open positions.

Coordinator: Dr. Daniel Leger

The facilities of the BIOACOUSTICS LAB support research on all signals in the audible range. We are fully equipped with digital and analog recording equipment. The lab is Macintosh-based and runs Raven and Canary software for the digital analysis of sounds. Ongoing research includes an investigation of geographical variation in bird song. We are presently focused on the variation observed in neotropical flycatchers.

Coordinator: Dr. Ming Li

The BIOPSYCHOLOGY LAB is primarily interested in the neurobiological and behavioral mechanisms of action of psychotherapeutic drugs (e.g. antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants and anxiolytics), neurobiology of maternal behavior, and co-morbid substance abuse in mental disorders. We take a preclinical approach using pharmacological (e.g. selective agonists or antagonists), neuroscience (e.g. immunocytochemistry), genetic (e.g. viral vectors), and behavioral techniques to address research issues in these fields. Current studies explore psychobiological mechanisms of antipsychotic action, serotonin systems in maternal behavior and nicotine use in schizophrenia. We also have done work in evaluating new chemical compounds that may have therapeutic potentials for mental disorders. The models used in this lab include both unconditioned natural behaviors (e.g. social interaction, maternal behavior, locomotor activity, ultrasonic vocalizations, forced swim test, elevated plus maze, startle reflex, etc.), as well as conditioned behaviors (e.g. two-way conditioned avoidance response, fear-potentiated startle, etc.). The laboratory is equipped with 10 two-way conditioned avoidance shuttle boxes; 16 locomotor activity monitoring boxes; 4 forced swim test system; 6 startle reflex systems; a cryostat; and a stereotaxic instrument.

Coordinator: Dr. Dennis L. Molfese

The facilities of the DEVELOPMENTAL BRAIN LAB support research investigating the relationship between brain and behavior from birth into the aging period. The lab includes 14 stationary and portable state-of-the-art brain imaging systems that record high-density 128 and 256 channel EEG and event-related brain potentials (ERP), an integrated high-density EEG-Near-Infrared system (NIR) for recording brain blood flow and ERPs simultaneously, and an eye-tracker system. A computer lab that includes both Macintosh and PC computers run a range of brain imaging programs that include Brain Voyager, Net Station ERP data collection software as well as BESA and Geosource brain localization software. Computers also are licensed for SAS, SPSS and MatLab as well as standard database and graphics and movie software. Ongoing research includes investigations into the neural correlates of cognitive and language development, the use of neural responses to identify children at risk for developing cognitive impairments and the use of these techniques to select intervention strategies and monitor the success of intervention. Other studies investigate early brain organization and emerging cognition in preterm and full term infants,traumatic brain injury including concussion, as well as studies comparing cross-modal processing in old and new world monkeys. Through the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, investigators will have access to a 3T fMRI system that supports auditory and visual stimulus presentations and allows for the simultaneous collection of ERP and fMRI data.

Coordinator: Dr. Maital Neta

Research in the COGNITIVE AND AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE LAB capitalizes on a number of methods from psychology and neuroscience to examine ambiguity resolution in the domain of emotional facial expressions. Specifically, although some expressions provide clear predictive information that something good (e.g., happy) or bad (e.g., angry) will happen, other expressions, like surprise, have predicted both positive (e.g., birthday party) and negative (e.g., car accident) events for us in the past. When presented in the absence of contextual information, these ambiguously valenced expressions can be used to delineate a valence bias: ambiguous stimuli are stably interpreted negatively by some people and positively by others. The working hypothesis in the lab is that positivity requires regulation.

Coordinator: Dr. Jeffrey Stevens

The ADAPTIVE DECISION MAKING LAB integrates cognitive and evolutionary perspectives to study decision making in humans and other animals. Our research follows the bounded rationality approach, which explores how organisms with limited time, information, and computational abilities make adaptive decisions. We use theoretical, experimental, and comparative methods to model and empirically investigate the cognitive processes organisms use when making decisions. One of our research topics explores the cognitive mechanisms, such as patience and accurate memory, needed to implement decision strategies in cooperative situations. Another research topic develops and tests process-based models of intertemporal choice. We also investigate questions of risky choice, quantification, timing, memory, and social networks to help understand how humans and other animals make decisions in an uncertain world.

Coordinator: Dr. Scott F. Stoltenberg

Research in the BEHAVIOR GENETICS LABORATORY seeks to characterize the role of genetic variation on individual differences in health-risk behaviors. We focus on genes that influence the function of neurotransmitter systems and on behavioral traits, such as impulsivity, that increase risk for behavioral problems. Studies in the Behavior Genetics Lab have examined phenotypes such as alcohol problems, substance use, eating problems, risky driving, decision-making and gambling. In general, we use a candidate gene association study approach with non-clinical populations (i.e. college students) as study participants. We also use control system modeling to better understand how genetic variation at multiple system components affects neurotransmitter system function. Such computer modeling will enable us to develop testable hypotheses to better study pathways from genes to behavior. Our work crosses levels of analysis and spans several areas of psychology including, but not limited to, neuroscience, cognitive, personality and clinical to address important questions about genetic influences on behavior.


Gwendolyn Bachman (Biological Sciences)
Alexandra Basolo (Biological Sciences)
Alan Bond (Biological Sciences)
Mike Dodd (Cognitive Psychology)
Kimberly Espy (Psychology, DCN Lab)
John Flowers (Emeritus Professor in Cognitive Psychology)
Robert Gibson (Biological Sciences)
Dennis McChargue (Clinical Psychology)
Gary Pickard (Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)
Anne Schutte (Developmental Psychology)
Patrica Sollars (Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)
William Wagner (Biological Sciences)



I hope we have sparked your interest in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program. If so, application forms can be obtained via the web or send an inquiry to Jamie Longwell at Feel free to send any general questions about the Neuroscience and Behavior Program to Dr. Ming Li, the Neuroscience and Behavior Program Area Coordinator, at Interest in a faculty and his/her research program should be sent directly to the individual.