Our lab studies the evolution of the social brain. We use tools from neuroscience, molecular genetics & evolutionary biology to understand the natural diversity of animal behavior and its mechanisms.
Social cognition is among the most complex of all phenotypes. It changes over time, is shaped by developmental environments, and is influenced by the behavior of other individuals. Decades of work in game theory and behavioral ecology suggest that both developmental and genetic variation in social behavior should be common. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that variation in social cognition contributes to major dimensions of human diversity, ranging from personality differences to profound issues in mental health. Despite its conceptual and practical importance, we know surprisingly little about what constitutes normal variation in the social brain. Our lab focuses on the social behavior of exotic rodent species. These species allow us to use biomedical advances in neurobiology and genetics to understand individual, population and species differences in social cognition. We study two main groups of rodents: the singing mice of Central America, and the monogamous prairie voles of North America. The singing mice provide us with unique opportunities to examine how brains process vocal signals, and how this changes with ecological conditions and individual experience. The prairie voles enable insights into the mechanisms of social attachment, spatial memory and sexual fidelity. By combining genomic and neuroscience perspectives with fieldwork, we hope to get a more complete understanding of how evolutionary forces shape genetic and environmental contributions to behavior. For more information on each of these projects, please visit their respective research pages. For pdfs of some of our work, see our publication page.