Neural and Behavioral Sciences Senior Seminar

Neural and Behavioral Sciences Senior Seminar

Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2010

A discussion of contemporary understandings of the neural and behavioral sciences, likely directions of future work, and their reciprocal relationship to broader social and cultural activities. Students will participate in on-line forum discussion of papers on this general subject, as well as lead discussions and write web papers on topics of particular interest to themselves.  Others are welcome to join in the conversation by way of background readings and on-line forums.  

Learning objectives:

  • To achieve critical and synthetic in-depth understandings of selected issues in the neural and behavioral science and make them available in a form that is engaging and useful to others.
  • To develop greater skill in relating in-depth understandings of particular lines of investigation to other lines of investigation within the neural and behavioral sciences
  • To acquire greater ability to engage in productive public discussion of research in the neural and behavioral sciences and its conceptual and practical significance for human life generally.

Schedule (with links to background materials and forum discussions, and to related student papers)

25 Jan  Exploring the brain's role in experiencing Grobstein
1 Feb  Depression pharmacotherapy: lessons from/about research Grobstein
8 Feb  Brain and cognition: the significance of culture?  Grobstein
15 Feb

 The neurobiology of consciousness: from cells to self

Fischer, Pina
22 Feb

 Imaging and the question of consciousness


Danforth, Posner

Roberts, DeWitt

1 Mar

 Manipulations of memory

Englander, Gopinath
15 Mar

 The experience of stroke

Ver Hoeve, Berman
22 Mar


29 Mar


5 Apr  no class  
12 Apr

 The neurobiology of pair bonding

Kim, Liss
19 Apr

 Photographic/eidetic memory

McCormick, Robbins
26 Apr

 Senior paper rehearsals and reflections

4 May  BMC biology senior paper presentations  

Special senior research project:  The language spiral: how society evolved language


  • Engage actively in weekly discussion and contribute post-discussion thoughts to weekly session forum
  • Prepare topic, intro to topic, and background reading list to be posted for at least one of the weekly sessions (can be in teams)
  • Prepare brief summary of at least one weekly session to be posted.
  • Write a 4-6 page paper for a general audience on the topic of a session you were involved in organizing.  The paper should be posted on-line and turned in as hard copy in the box on the door of Room 111. Papers are due May 8.
  • Reflect on the course as per the prompt and post your responses in the forum at Reflections.
  • Complete on-line survey at

Course general on-line forum (see below)


EB Ver Hoeve's picture

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Ver

Bryn Mawr College


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Hi, my name is Elizabeth Ver Hoeve and I am a senior at Bryn Mawr majoring in Biology with the NBS concentration.  My thesis is part of yearlong electrophysiology research with Dr. Peter Brodfuehrer in which we continue to examine the neuronal basis of the swimming behavior in the medicinal leech.  Specifically, I am interested in elucidating the role cell 208, a central oscillator cell, and further understanding its effect on (or lack of effect on) the leech swimming response.  To me, neuroscience is all around us.  Although a fundamental concept in neurobiology, it never ceases to amaze me that we perceive the world based on how our brains perceive the world.
1.        Like many others have noted, I think mental illness is definitely one of the most important questions in the area of neural and behavioral studies.  Like many before me have stated, the connections between brain physiology and mental psychology require further elucidation.  I would also like to say that I am very interested in women’s’ health and therefore the specific issues related to women’s mental health.
2.        Stem cells and neuroplasticity are other important areas of research. Stem cells can divide so that one of the two resulting cells remains an undifferentiated stem cell while the other becomes a differentiated cell type.  The mechanisms underlying this division remain unclear, however, the pluripotency of stem cells is of great usefulness when thinking about how to treat neurological disorders and brain injury.
3.          I am also interested in the neurobiological differences between males and females.  From cognition and spatial reasoning to emotion…. I’m interested in all of it. 


Sasha DeWitt's picture

Hi my name is Sasha and I'm a

Hi my name is Sasha and I'm a Biology Major at Bryn Mawr. I work with Megan in Earl Thomas's lab- we make rats anxious. My interests in neurology range from anxiety- what makes us anxious and how can we treat extreme anxiety disorders, to language acquisition and communication. 3 interesting questions for neuro behavioral research are:

1) How much can we learn about brain function from technology like the "braingate" system and could this lead to ways to cure patients with spinal cord injuries or other conditions like locked in syndrome?

2)Perception- is the blue I see the same as the blue that you see? Is it possible for individuals to interpret the world exactly the same as other people if all of our brains are different because of different genetics and different experiences?

3)Our brain naturally categorizes things in order to deal with everything we perceive in our environment- is that still necessary or is it an evolutionary relic?

dshanin's picture


Hi Internet! My name is Dan Shanin and I am a senior at Haverford College majoring in psychology with an NBS concentration.  I will be attending medical school next year and hope to pursue either Trauma Surgery or Interventional  Radiology.  This year I am doing a thesis, along with David Fischer and Jeremy Posner, investigating the interaction between testosterone levels, stress hormones (using social dominance hierarchies) and hippocampal neurogenesis in mice.  My interest in neuroscience began as a interest in general human biology and progressed towards the brain as it is truly the final frontier in our efforts to understand what makes us who and what we are.

My 3 topics of interest are:

1.  Glial cells, specifically neuronal-astrocyte interactions and astrocyte-astrocyte interactions.  While the former category of interactions are better studied and form the basis for some of the most common investigatory tools such as fMRI imaging there is much more to the relationship than is currently understood.  The latter category are even more interesting because they represent an entirely novel system of neural information exchange that may eventually come to challenge the doctrine that the neuron is the fundamental subunit of all neural activity.  

2.  Neurogenesis; just finding areas in the brain with constant neuronal development throughout a person's lifetime was groundbreaking, what interests me however is the "why" behind it.  I am interested in what neural processes require these new cells and how this can improve our understanding of the brain as a whole.

3.  Sorry to say the same thing as everybody else but...the connection between mental illness psychology and brain physiology.  Psychiatry remains decades behind the rest of medicine, some drugs work for some patients...some for others and nobody knows why.  I feel that the ultimate goal of neuroscience is to increase our understanding of the brain and mind to the point where a psychiatrist can manipulate the brain with the same confidence of an internist manipulating the body.      

mrobbins's picture


haverford college


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Hi, my name is Melissa Robbins and I am a psychology major at Haverford.  My long-term goal is to go to medical school after I take a year or two off to work in a research lab. For my senior thesis, I am working with Katie Englander, and we are looking at the effects of maternal relatedness on social approach to pain behavior in mice. And as Katie mentioned, I too look forward to discussing the ethical and research-based topics related to our thesis project. A unique characteristic that I bring to the class would be my multifaceted perspective on issues that comes from my experiences working in an endocrinology lab, a diabetes and obesity clinic, and growing up with a psychiatrist for a parent. These influences in my life taught me that nothing is as simple as it seems. In some ways, who we are is always in conflict with who we want to be and what our biology deems us to be.  The complex interplay between the physical manifestations of biology and definitions of self is especially fascinating to me.

Personally, I think that some of the most interesting research topics in neural and behavioral science right now are:

1. Examining the neuro-mechanisms behind free will and self-consciousness. I am also interested in the judgments made in our subconscious and conscious. This morning, NPR talked with the author of the book, “The Hidden Brain”. The Hidden Brain explores this topic in great depth and definitely piqued my interest! This issue is definitely an area that I would like to learn more about. Here is the link:
2.  Exploring the stark differences between the adolescent and adult brain and how these differences relate to behaviors (such as decision-making) and different reactions to drugs/substance abuse

3. Investigating the use of drugs and psychotherapy to treat the neural correlates related to the depression/anxiety epidemic in society. Why do some respond better to certain medications while other reap no benefit? Do certain types of people respond better to psychotherapy than others?



Claire Ceriani's picture


Hi, I'm a premed biology major at BMC.  I'm interested in going into neurology or possibly neurosurgery.  I'm particularly interested in neurodegenerative diseases, but I'm also intrigued by intelligence.  I think conditions like autism where intelligence may be greatly enhanced in one area and nearly absent in another are fascinating.  My thesis is on how the human brain evolved language and how the co-evolution of the social structure was involved.  I've been looking into how newer languages, such as sign languages and creoles, have emerged and the role the community played.  My three interests/questions in neuroscience are:

1. What exactly is intelligence?  The ways we choose to define intelligence and how we differentiate ourselves from other species based on intelligence are obviously important to us as humans.  We are interested in classifying and ranking intelligence with methods like IQ tests, and yet we often admit that it's not something that can be truly quantified.  The way we view intelligence has a serious effect on the way we view people of unusual or abnormal intelligence.

2. What causes neurodegeneration beyond the normal aging process, and how can it be prevented or reversed?  The best we can do at this point is slow the progress of some of these diseases and manage the symptoms, but cures are beyond the means of current research.

3. As David F. already said, I think it's interesting to consider the merging of biology and psychology, such as finding the links between thoughts/behaviors and neurochemistry.

vpina's picture

Hi, my name is Vadilson Pina

  • Hi, my name is Vadilson Pina and I am a junior pych major from Haverford.  I don't have much of a background in bio but i am very interested in many aspects about this class.  Reading through all of the other responses really gives me a great idea of how ahead everyone else is in this topic and I bet it will be a great class.  I find language barriers and their connections to the brain very interesting because I see myself as someone who just doesn't quite speak many other languages well and i believe that is purely a neural thing.  My three interests in biophyc are:
  • Language development in the brain and why there are certain ages that the brain can develop around a language and give up all others that do not directly connect.
  • Stress and its great affect on the brain.  How stress can in rare cases force the mind into a whole new reality.
  • Finally the connection between brain disorders and the ways biology researches and finds cures for such disorders.
Lindsay McCormick's picture

Hi everyone, My name is

Hi everyone,

My name is Lindsay McCormick, and I am a biology major at Haverford. My lab experience is unrelated to neuroscience, which may give me a unique perspective to the course material. For my senior thesis, I am studying the role of the transcription factor NF-Y in regulating microRNAs involved in the differentiation and proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells. This past summer I also worked in a Nutrition and Metabolism lab; this experience sparked my interest in the intersection between neuroscience and nutrition. Additionally, I had the opportunity to study both neuroscience and health psychology while studying abroad in Ireland.

Three topics in neuroscience that I find interesting/important are:

1. The way in which particular compounds that we consume influence biological mechanisms in the brain. For example, what is the impact of the release of inflammatory cytokines after consuming particular types of foods? How might this affect our thinking processes?

2. The influence of drugs on the brain and the underlying mechanisms that explain their effects. Due to the widespread use of SSRIs, I think it is particularly important that we gain a better understanding of why they work to relieve depression.

3. The role of stem cells in the brain. Can we utilize the brain’s stem cells or embryonic stem cells to repair the brain following neural damage? As brain tumor (glioblastoma) cells can clearly divide, can we induce similar mechanisms to promote neuronal division?

katiee's picture



My name is Katie Englander and I am a psychology major and education minor at Haverford. My thesis research focuses on social approach to mice in pain. Along with Melissa Robbins, I will be investigating possible mechanisms underlying the social approach phenomenon between adult female mice and pups. The experimental paradigm raises many research-based and ethical questions that I would be interested in discussing with the rest of the class. Accordingly, many of the questions that follow pertain to fields related to my thesis.

Two summers ago I taught English as a foreign language in Italy. Due to the language barrier, I was forced to find effective ways of communicating that did not rely as heavily on English. While I doubt we will have the same issues in here, difficulties understanding the jargon associated with biology and psychology might arise. Hopefully my experiences in Italy will make me more cognizant of any potential gaps in communication between bio and psych majors so that we can work towards better ways of communicating information that is accessible to everyone.

3 questions:
1) Language and the brain-- how does auditory input stimulate the production of neural pathways?
2) Learning differences-- how can the study of healthy and "normal" brains lead to a better understanding of learning differences (disabilities)?
3) Empathy-- what is empathy and what are the neuroanatomical pathways responsible for emapthy? Why have we evolved the ability to feel empathy for another?

Looking forward to working with everyone!

Jeremy Posner's picture



My name is Jeremy Posner and I'm a psychology major at Haverford College.  I'm working with David and with Dan Shanin on a thesis designed  to investigate the significance of both social status and gonadal hormones upon neurogenesis rates in mice.  My interest in neurobiology stems from a focus upon the nature of mental illness and its treatment.  I was initially interested in the mechanisms of drug treatment and understanding of the underlying causes of neurological diseases and over time I've broadened my focus to include the general biology of the nervous system.  So I suppose that I'll be able to contribute specifically through a clinical and practical perspective.  Three topics within the field that are particularly interesting to me are: 

1. Drug treatments for neurological diseases and specifically to repair neural damage or death.  

2. A better understanding of the neural features of different mental disorders, understanding both common features and variation within different diagnoses (and whether diagnoses based upon symptom groupings are currently accurate).

3. Neuroplasticity and neuroadaptation.  The growth of new neurons as it relates to things like learning and the degree to which the brain is able to adapt to aging and damage without loosing function or even adapting in the face of the loss of function.  

Bobby Danforth's picture



I am a Senior Biology Major and Chemistry Minor at Haverford. My thesis work focuses on making a bacteriophage that will stick to other bacteriophage with faint aspirations towards producing nanowires, semiconductors, and other materials. I think that's pretty cool and if you agree we can be posting bros. I am from San Francisco and enjoy Zizek, Ted Leo, and Sriracha.

In addition to other research work, I have spent a summer under Professor Wendy Sternberg at Haverford, where I studied relationships between pain and neurogenesis in a mouse model of empathic behavior.

Among a long list of contemporary issues in Psychological research, several come to mind as significant:

1) Better understanding the limitations of BOLD imaging and developing other ways to analyze brain function
2) The function of products of genes strongly correlated to incidence of various mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia and those intimately associated with important or unusual behavior (creativity, anxiety, etc.)
3) Accounting for and prediction of individual variation in drug response and success of treatment in mentally ill individuals.

meroberts's picture


Hey everyone, I'm Megan. I'm a Psychology major at Bryn Mawr with an NBS concentration. I'm writing my thesis on the anxiolytic effects of the lateral septum in rat brains. It has been a very fun experience. It is certainly something unique that I wouldn't be able to do anywhere else. I'm also minoring in Spanish and I enjoy learning languages. I'm always impressed by the brain's plasticity and I am interested in the chemical processes that underlie human behavior.

Three topics related to the field of neurobiology that I find interesting are as follows:

1. I would like to see if the field of neurobiology could find a way to reverse, or at least halt, physical damage to the brain as a result of injury or illness. Could there be a pacemaker equivalent for parts of the brain?

2. In the case of Phineas Gage, the man who had a tamping rod shoot through his skull and lodge in his brain, scientists have observed that personality can change as a result of physical destruction of parts of the brain. What about the physical rearrangement of certain areas of the brain causes changes in mood and personality?

3. Is neurobiology applicable to all cultures? How do cultural differences shape how people view the brain and mental illness?

aliss's picture


Hi everyone,

My name is Alison Liss.  I'm a senior psychology major at Haverford.  I'm in the same thesis group as Bo-Rin; basically, we're using what we already know about the ways that the brain reacts to errors to study the reaction to subjective, social errors.  We're using EEG to record the electrical activity in the anterior cingulate cortex that is elicited when expectations for a response are not met.  As far as my unique perspective goes, I have done a lot of neuroscience research, both at Haverford and elsewhere.  This past summer, I worked at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine doing single-neuron recording and drug injection into the rat ventral pallidum to study motivational behavior.  I'm premed and going to medical school next year, so my interests tend to veer towards disease processes in the brain, but I know that to understand disease you have to understand the way the brain functions when it's healthy.

Three research topics that I am interested in are:

1. The ways that the brain creates new cells and synaptic pathways and ways we can use this ability to overcome diseases or injuries.

2. The gaps between what sensory inputs we experience and what we actually perceive; where does extraneous information get processed away?  How does the brain decide what is important?

3. I'm also interested in the ways that the brain interacts with the rest of the body via hormonal pathways and the way that body systems regulate the brain and vice versa.

See you all tomorrow,


David F's picture


My name is David Fischer, and I'm a psychology major at Haverford. I'm primarily interested in behavioral neuroscience, in terms of understanding the biological basis of our behavioral patterns, which I see as some of the most fundamental aspects of being an organism. My perspective is probably most unique in that it is in large part philosophical. My interest in neuroscience stemmed from an initial interest in the philosophy of mind. Although I've come to dedicate most of my focus to teasing apart the mechanisms for behavior, I haven't lost an interest for the broader implications of reducing complex psychological processes to neural circuitry. I've also gained a unique perspective from my lab work, where I've studied the neural effects of environmental changes, neurogenesis, the effects of social behavior on pain behavior and vice versa, and the role of stress and sex hormones in these processes.

Three important/interesting topics in neuroscience are:

1) Like Bo-Rin mentioned, I think it will be interesting to discover the extent and consequences of neural plasticity in the central nervous system, specifically in terms of learning, perception, and recovery from damage.

2) As psychology and biology continue to merge, I think it will be interesting to find the biological basis for even the most complex cognitive processes, including self-consciousness (e.g., self schemas, body representations, etc.).

3) I am also interested in research that strives to apply behavioral neuroscience to a clinical setting. Once we understand the neural basis of phenomenon like love, social anxiety, and language, I will be curious to see how techniques are developed to manipulate these processes for therapeutic or cosmetic purposes.

VGopinath's picture



My name is Vidya Gopinath and I am a biology major at Haverford. My senior research does not have to do with neuroscience: I am looking at protein interactions during meiosis in C. elegans.  A unique characteristic that I bring to this class is, like Bo-Rin, a cultural diversity. I grew up in Belgium and lived in Hong Kong during middle school. I also took classes on the nervous system while I was abroad in London, at UCL, and their approach to the subject is different. The first day of practicals, we went to the cadaver room and dissected human brains. I first became interested in neuroscience through being a summer camp counselor for severely Autistic young children and wanted to learn more about the disorder so often focus on the practical manifestations of neurological conditions.

I believe three of the most interesting research topics in neuroscience right now are:

1. Examining brain development, structures and connectivity of individuals with Autism to improve management or even the prognosis of the disorder.

2. The identification of "normal" brain development and what constitutes ADD as well as the effects of ADD medicine on children, especially in the long-term.

3. The effects of PTSD and how combinations of medication, EMDR and counseling can treat individuals experiencing PTSD.

sberman's picture


Hi everyone,

My name is Sara Berman, and I'm a biology major at Haverford. My thesis is investigating the mechanisms of axon guidance, which refers to how axons in the developing brain pathfind their way from one location in the brain to another to form correct and functioning neural circuits. Specifically, my project is looking at the role of the atypical neurotransmitter nitric oxide (NO) in retinal axon guidance (the formation of the neural circuit that connects the retina to the optic tectum). I initially became interested in nitric oxide because I read a number of papers that implicated over-expression of NO in neuropsychological diseases (OCD, Tourette's), and wanted to understand how NO expression is necessary for nervous system development in the first place. I think I offer a unique perspective to this class because I've taken a number of classes and have been conducting research on the molecular mechanisms of nervous system activities - I hope that combining this knowledge with some of my colleagues who have taken more psychology classes will help all of us to put together a larger scale picture that synthesizes molecular research data with experiential/psychology data. 


In my opinion, the three most important/interesting topics in neuroscience are:

1.  Achieving a greater understanding of neurodevelopment so that we can use this information to rewire circuits that have been damaged through disease (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's etc.) or injury.

2. Conducting more research on the role of glial cells, as they may contribute more to neuroscientific processes than scientists originally thought.

3. Similar to what Bo-rin said, understanding what is physically wrong in the brain and its associated chemicals/neurotransmitters in diseases such as depression, bi-polar disorder etc., so that better and more effective treatments for these devastating illnesses can be developed.

See you all on Monday.

Bo-Rin Kim's picture


Hi everyone,

My name is Bo-Rin Kim, and I am a senior psychology major at Haverford. I'm currently doing my senior thesis in cognitive neuroscience, but I am also interested in the neural aspects of clinical and social psychology. In terms of unique perspective, I spent half of my life living in America and the other half in Korea. Being bi-cultural, I think I have developed the ability to see things from different perspectives and have an open mind about things. I think this kind of open perspective is also applicable to the study of the brain as it creates the opportunity to see new ideas and raise new questions.

Three research topics in neuroscience that I find interesting are:

1. The neural basis of mental illness: What are the biological causes of mental illness?

2. Drugs and the brain: A better understanding of the effect (and side effects) drugs have on the brain and subsequent cognitive/behavioral functioning.

3. Plasticity: What happens when the brain rearranges itself? What triggers this and how does it happen? 

I realize that these are all very general, but it's a place to begin exploring!

Paul Grobstein's picture

improving the communication (and doing) of neuroscience (nbs)

Apropos of our course objectives:
Neurotalk: improving the communication of neuroscience research, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11:61-69 (January 2010).
Accept defeat: the neuroscience of screwing up, Wired, Dec 2009
Also relevant:
Neuroethics, from Center for Neuroscience and Society, University of Pennsylvania
The Brain as a Learner/Inquirer/Creator: Some Implications of its Organization for Individual and Social Well Being