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Psychologist receives NSF grant to study the social brain

Alexander Ophir, associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study mating tactics in mammals, with a focus on the prairie vole, to learn about the underlying neural sources of social behaviors.

A vole. Mike Tewkesbury/Creative Commons license 2.0

“Across vertebrates, males use a diversity of tactics to gain access to reproductive females, and these tactics may be associated with variation in sociability,” Ophir writes.

Studying prairie voles, a socially monogamous species where pairbonded males vary in sexual fidelity in spite of maintaining strong pairbonds, these studies aim to shift thinking about the function of the social brain. The project will train undergraduates in research techniques and engage them in community outreach to elementary school-aged children.

In his research, Ophir works to understand the proximate control of social behavior and the ultimate consequences of these behaviors. His lab uses classic field and laboratory techniques in combination with modern molecular tools to examine the roles of specific brain regions in coordinating social recognition and diverse attributes of temperament related to attachment, aggression and care-giving.

Read the full story on the College of Arts and Sciences website.

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