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Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience

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About Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience (BCN) area with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences focuses on investigating the biological basis for behavior and cognition.The faculty affiliated with this training area engage in NIH- and NSF-funded research using both humans and animals as they address topics ranging from human language to learning and memory to models of disorders.

Neuroscience Research

The content areas of research strength in the BCN area include:

  • Neurobiology of learning and memory
  • Animal behavior
  • Cognitive control
  • Sleep
  • Communication
  • Sensory processing
  • Neural circuitry of stress
  • Drug addiction
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Language

Our Approach

The BCN faculty use a systems-level neuroscience approach to addressing their questions of interest. As a result, the BCN laboratories employ a wide variety of techniques, including neuronal recording, functional imaging, optogenetics, immunohistochemistry, neuronal imaging, and functional neuroanatomy, combined with different behavioral and cognitive approaches. Moreover, the BCN faculty collaborate extensively with colleagues across campus, including those in Biology, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurosurgery. Most of the BCN faculty are also members of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI), a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary neuroscience center, led by Dr. Ted Abel. Through the INI, graduate students in BCN laboratories have the opportunity to interact with a wide array of neuroscientists and broaden their skills sets even further. In addition, graduate students have the opportunity to attend weekly colloquia given by leading neuroscientists from across the country and around the world.

The Program

Graduate students interested in joining the laboratories of BCN faculty have two mechanisms for doing so.

The first mechanism is to apply through the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and choose the BCN training area. The training program for the BCN area uses a flexible, mentor-based approach that facilitates research, enabling students to be highly productive and setting them on a path toward becoming an independent scientist. Upon joining the program, students immediately join a lab and begin focusing their efforts on developing their laboratory skills and research ideas. Students also form a Research Advisory Committee of three faculty, including the mentor, who meet with and advise the student every semester until the student completes his/her Dissertation Prospectus, upon which the student's Dissertation Committee serves in a similar capacity. The BCN area's course requirements are relatively low to provide flexibility in each student's curriculum. Students are required to take two foundational courses in neuroscience and a course in statistics during their first year. They are required to take two additional elective courses, though students frequently take more courses depending on their background and future interests. Example course plan:

First Year - Fall

  • Fundamental Neurobiology
  • Quantitative Methods in Psychology (statistics)


  • Foundations in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Elective 1

Second Year - Fall and/or Spring

  • Elective 2

Courses that students have taken for electives include Neurophysiology, Functional Neuroanatomy, Developmental Neurobiology, Principles of Neuropsychology, Advanced Statistics courses, and Neurobiology of Disease, as well as specialized seminars typically offered every year by different faculty. Students also have the opportunity to take courses focused on skills development, such as research writing, and to take workshops across campus that focus on career development.

In addition to the curricular requirements, students in the BCN area are required to complete a First-Year Project, which they present as part of the departmental Research Symposium during their second year. During their third year, students must complete their Prospectus, in which they propose their planned dissertation work. The Comprehensive Exam is folded into the Prospectus, enabling students to progress rapidly in their research toward their Ph.D.

Full financial support is provided to all graduate students in the program.

Second, prospective students can apply to the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience. Upon entering the Neuroscience Program, incoming graduate students can then choose to join the laboratory of a BCN faculty member. Students entering through this program receive a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and follow the curriculum and requirements set forth in the Neuroscience Program (described in the Graduate Student Handbook that can be found at the link above).

Prospective Graduate Students

Regardless of which training program you may be considering, we strongly encourage you to visit the faculty members' websites and to contact the individual faculty members whose work interests you. In addition, please feel free to contact our training area coordinator Jason Radley, at:

Office phone: 319-353-0152
Mailing address: Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, W311 Seashore Hall, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242


View all Faculty in BCN


  • Mark Blumberg

    Mark Blumberg

    Department Chair, F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor

    Development, functions, and neurophysiological mechanisms of sleep; sensorimotor processing in the developing nervous system

  • Demir-Lira

    Ece Demir-Lira

    Assistant Professor

    Developmental cognitive neuroscience; Academic development; Socioeconomic status; Parent-child interactions; Brain plasticity; Typical and atypical development;

  • John Freeman

    John Freeman

    Professor, Stuit Faculty Fellow

    Neurobiology of learning and memory; Developmental neurobiology of learning and memory

  • Kai Hwang

    Kai Hwang

    Assistant Professor

    Cognitive control; Developmental cognitive neuroscience; Brain network dynamics

  • Alan Kim Johnson

    Alan Kim Johnson

    F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor

    Neural control of body fluid and cardiovascular homeostasis in health and disease

  • Ryan LaLumiere

    Ryan LaLumiere

    Associate Professor

    Neurobiology of learning and memory; Neurobiology of addiction

  • Bob McMurray

    Bob McMurray


    Speech Perception, Development, Word Learning, Cognitive Neuroscience, Individual Differences and Atypical populations.

  • J. Toby Mordkoff

    J. Toby Mordkoff

    Associate Professor

    Human information processing, visual attention, motor-perceptual interaction, cognitive electrophysiology

  • Jason Radley

    Jason Radley

    Associate Professor

    Stress neurobiology; neural control of adaptive responses to stress; chronic stress-induced structural plasticity in cortical systems

  • Daniel Tranel

    Daniel Tranel

    F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor (Psychological & Brain Sciences/Neurology)

    Cognitive neuroscience; clinical and experimental neuropsychology

  • Shaun Vecera

    Shaun Vecera

    Professor & Herman J. and Eileen S. Schmidt Chair

    Visual attention and perception

  • Michelle Voss

    Michelle Voss

    Assistant Professor

    Cognitive aging, exercise neuroscience, learning and memory

  • Edward Wasserman

    Edward Wasserman

    Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology

    Learning, memory, and cognition in humans and animals

  • Jan Wessel

    Jan Wessel

    Assistant Professor (Psychological & Brain Sciences/Neurology)

    Neural mechanisms for flexible behavior and cognition