News & Awards

Autism Awareness Month: A Behavioral Neuroscientist's Insights on Social Play

What’s going on in your brain when you’re navigating social situations? And how exactly are social behaviors developed and regulated by the brain? Behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Alexa Veenema shares about her research on social play.

Learn more about the importance of social play here.

Cheryl Sisk, University Distinguished Professor Emerita of the Department of Psychology and the Neuroscience Program has been selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a fellow in neuroscience for distinguished contributions to the impact of puberty on the adolescent brain, particularly how it relates differently to social behaviors and eating disorders in males and females.

Learn more about Dr. Sisk and this achievement here.

Do you eat with your eyes, your gut or your brain? A neuroscientist explains how to listen to your hunger during the holidays

What's going on in your brain when you decide what, when, and how much to eat? The science behind eating behavior reveals that the process is far more complex than just consuming calories when your body needs fuel. As a scientist interested in the psychology and biology that drives eating behavior, Dr. Johnson shares about how the brain's experiences with food shape eating decisions.

Read about the complexity of eating behavior here.

New photos from the Arguello Lab

The Arguello Lab studies the impact of adolescent drug use on brain circuit function, reconsolidation of drug memories, craving and relapse. To study this, they use multidisciplinary approaches including operant conditioning, chemogenetics, circuit tracing, and biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses.

Click here to learn more about the Arguello Lab.

Why do you love science?

Guest speakers in Dr. Amy Arguello's behavioral neuroscience lab are answering those questions and more. Dr. Arguello’s goal for this “Why I Love Science and How I Got Here” series is to offer a forum for her students to ask questions to grad students, postdocs, and professors about their life trajectories.

Many thanks to the guest speakers including lab alumni Mansi Verma (current PhD student at University of South Carolina), Doris Olekanma (current PhD student at Penn State), Dr. Annie Arguello (Director of Translational Science at Denali Therapeutics), and Dr. Sierra Stringfield (Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh)! Your insights and experiences are inspiring!

Interested in applying for our graduate program?  

Come to our virtual information session on September 20th at 7PM (ET) to find out more about our area of focus, how to apply, and to meet some of the faculty and students. Sessions will be held for each area of interest:

*Missed the session? Click here to watch a recording.

Dr. Amy Arguello recently traveled to Mannheim, Germany to present at the European Behavioral Pharmacology Society's 2023 conference! Dr. Arguello presented at the symposia along with Drs. Anna Li, Muhammad Parvaz, and Celine Nicolas. In their talk, titled "Incubation of drug craving: a multi-level approach," Dr. Arguello shared about her research on adolescent cocaine exposure and time-dependent effects on relapse.

Joel Soler earned a PhD in Psychology in May 2019, specializing in Behavioral Neuroscience. Shortly after graduating, he began working for Eli Lilly and Company as a medical writer and is now a Senior Manager in the Lilly Research Laboratories Campus Recruiting division. Joel sat down with us recently to talk about his time at MSU, how he ended up in the field that he is, and how his program prepared him to make a difference in the workplace.

Read more here.

Congratulations to Dr. Lauren Raycraft for passing her dissertation defense in June 2023! Dr. Raycraft specialized in behavioral neuroscience with a dissertation titled "Accumbens-Projecting Lateral Hypothalamic Melanin Concentrating Hormone Neurons Interact with Ovarian Hormones to Modulate Motivated Food-Seeking."

Dr. Joseph Lonstein, a behavioral neuroscientist in the MSU Department of Psychology, along with Drs. Galit Pelled, a neuroscientist in MSU Biomedical Engineering and Radiology, and Fredric Manfredsson at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix have received a $425,000 grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, a subdivision of the National Institute of Health. This two-year grant will fund their project, Neural Basis of Stress-Derailed Motherhood, which aims to examine how stress affects a mother’s brain and behavior in a laboratory rat model.

Read more here.

A Taste of Neuroscience at the MSU Science Festival

During STEAM Expo Days on April 2nd, you can engage with “A Taste of Neuroscience” and discover how the brain and body interact to influence our eating behaviors. Members from the Johnson Behavioral Neuroscience Lab of the Department of Psychology combine principles of learning and memory with sophisticated neuroscience to explore questions about eating behaviors and metabolism.

Read more here.

Why is it that we often overeat during the holidays? How can some people always seem to make room for an extra slice of pie? Psychology professor Dr. Alex Johnson and his team of researchers know just how complex the answers are to those questions. From genetics to chemicals to environmental cues, there are a lot of factors that make a difference in why and how people eat.

Read more here.

Imagine you are in a laboratory room watching two African grass rats trying to navigate through a maze. One grass rat moves through the course quickly and finds its way out easily. The other grass rat struggles and cannot figure out how to get out of the maze. You wonder why one navigates it so easily and the other cannot. You might be surprised to find out that the only factor that changed for each grass rat was light exposure.

Psychology professor Lily Yan, Ph.D., and her team are researching with grass rats to understand how light modulates brain functions and behavior.

Read more here.

Dr. Alexa Veenema, associate professor of behavioral neuroscience, won the 2019 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year Award for Michigan State University.  This annual award recognizes faculty who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers.

Postdoctoral News

  • Christina Repucci won the 2021 Postdoctoral Excellence in Mentoring Award and 2021 Undergraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award from the MSU Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.


Graduate Student News


  • Benjamin Fry published a first-author paper titled "Assessing Reality testing in Mice Through Dopamine-Dependent Associatively Evoked Processing of Absent Gustatory Stimuli" in Schizophrenia Bulletin and “Disruptions in effort-based decision-making following acute optogenetic stimulation of ventral tegmental area dopamine cells” in Learning and Memory. Learning and Memory dedicated the cover image for April’s issue to Ben’s work.
  • Lauren Raycraft published a co-authored review titled "The dynamic regulation of appetitive behavior through lateral hypothalamic Orexin and Melanin Concentrating Hormone" in Physiology and Behavior.
  • Natasha Fowler published a first-author paper titled "A virtual issue highlighting animal studies of eating disorders as valuable tools for examining neurobiological underpinnings and treatment of eating disorders" in International Journal of Eating Disorders, a first-author book chapter titled “The binge eating prone/resistant animal model: A valuable tool for examining neurobiological underpinnings of binge eating” in Animal Models of Eating Disorders and co-authored an article titled “The effects of puberty and ovarian hormone removal on trajectories of palatable food and chow intake in female rats” in Physiology and Behavior.


  • Jessica Lee received the NSF GRFP fellowship award
  • André Herrera Charpentier received 3rd place for Best Oral Presentation and the People Choice Award for his presentation at the 2020 AGEP virtual conference.
  • Lauren Raycraft presented a talk titled "Identifying a subpopulation of Melanin Concentrating Hormone neurons that increase motivational responding during diestrus" at the Neuroendocrine Control of Metabolism Research Club in August 2020.
  • Jessica Lee successfully defended her Master’s thesis
  • Lauren Raycraft successfully defended her Master’s thesis


Undergraduate Student News

  • All of the 2023 UURAF poster award winners in the category of Neuroscience went to undergraduate researchers representing Psychology Behavioral Neuroscience labs.
  • Student Research Spotlight on Alex Shemke (Veenema Lab)
  • Elie Huez (Veenema Lab) received a first-place award for his research project presentation at the annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum organized by MSU that featured over 500 presentations.
  • Anna Luxhoj (Veenema Lab) was awarded the 2021-2022 Dean’s Assistantship Scholarship providing funding to support her senior thesis research project studying the involvement of oxytocin in social play behavior.
  • Aneesh Bal (Arguello Lab) was accepted into the Psychological and Brain Sciences program at John’s Hopkins under the mentorship of Drs. Patricia Janak and Kishore Kuchibhotla.
  • Adelina Tatone (Veenema Lab) received a College of Natural Science Undergraduate Research Scholarship for Summer 2021.



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