Psychology, PhD (Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology)

The Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology (BNCP) specialization provides an extensive range of instruction and is committed to training the next generation of behavioral neuroscientists who will take their place as scientists in departments of psychology, life sciences, and others at major research institutions, and in the private sector.

Program Description

Degree Awarded: Psychology, PhD

The Doctor of Philosophy program in psychology with an emphasis on behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology at Arizona State University is a program with a unique combination of real-world challenges and neuroscience solutions. Doctoral candidates will conduct translational research into the neurobiological and psychosocial processes that underlie behavior and health (e.g., drug abuse, stress, heart disease) using both theoretical and applied models. We challenge our students to help advance the field of neuroscience and also to advance their careers.  

The Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology (BNCP) program provides an extensive range of instruction and is committed to training the next generation of behavioral neuroscientists who will take their place as scientists in departments of psychology, life sciences, and others at major research institutions, and in the private sector. Our graduate students are trained in:

  • theoretical and applied bases of empirical questions
  • appropriate approaches to take in their research
  • important factors in research design
  • techniques for successful execution of experiments
  • applications of various types of data analyses

Our program consists of faculty with diverse research interests including: learning and memory (Bimonte-NelsonConradSanabria); mathematical modeling of behavior (SanabriaVerpeut); behavior,aging, neurodegenerative diseases, and hormone modulation (Bimonte-Nelson); behavioral and neurobiological consequences of drug abuse and stress (OliveConrad); stress and brain plasticity (Conrad); negative emotional states (fear, anxiety, depression) (Gewirtz); timing and time perception (Sanabria); ADHD and impulsivity (Sanabria); and canine cognition and behavior (Wynne).


Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology Labs

IMPORTANT: To be considered for PhD program, you must complete the application through ASU's online portal AND submit your material through Slideroom.

Prospective grad students interested in joining our program are encouraged to learn more about the faculty research and to directly contact BN faculty with any questions or comments. Some faculty within the Department of Psychology also participate in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program.

Undergrads who are interested in gaining research lab experience should visit the department's Research Opportunities pages for more information on how to apply to a lab that matches their interests. In general, research lab experience is limited to psychology majors. 

Student Handbook


The Department of Psychology’s doctoral program offers collaborative and interdisciplinary training in innovative, mentored research that is tailored to the unique needs of student. Doctoral candidates will develop expertise in quantitative methods from one of the nation’s top ranked programs. The program also offers a breadth of courses in cognitive processes within the context of perception and action, personality and issues of stigma and prejudice. 

The 84-hour program of study includes a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in behavioral neuroscience, have demonstrated research skills in a senior thesis, have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA and score in the upper quintile of GRE scores. 

Requirements and electives


Core courses








Total hours required


Courses and electives

The coursework for each student is individualized and based upon the student's previous training, research goals, and mentor and committee consensus. Students will take three core courses covering behavioral neuroscience, at least one elective course to expand their breadth of study, two skill courses and two in-depth seminars. Our research heavy program requires students to participate in weekly seminars as well as complete a dissertation.

At a Glance

Degree Requirements

The 84-hour program of study includes a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in clinical psychology, have demonstrated research skills in a senior thesis, have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA.

Admission Requirements

The Department of Psychology application process is completed online through ASU Graduate Admissions. Prospective students must submit the admission application form along with the fee and official transcripts.

For the department’s doctoral programs, students must submit supplemental application materials through SlideRoom, which requires an additional fee. For complete instructions for applying to the PhD program, visit our Doctoral Admission requirements page.

Core Courses (24 credit hours)

Core courses. Three courses covering the basic content in behavioral neuroscience from the following:

  • PSY 512 Advanced Learning
  • PSY 526 Neuroanatomy
  • PSY 570 Psychopharmacology
  • PSY 591 courses: Neuropsychopharmacology, Neuroendocrinology, Neurophysiology, Behavioral Neuroscience, and Stress  and the Brain
  • PSY 591 – Behavioral Neuroscience Seminar (required all semesters)

Skill Courses. Two courses:

  • PSY 530 Intermediate Statistics (ANOVA)
  • PSY 531 Regression Analysis

Breadth Courses (6 credit hours)

Breadth Courses. At least one course, to be agreed upon with the mentor, from the courses above or:

  • PSY 525  Cognitive Psychology
  • PSY 528  Sensation and Perception
  • BCH 461 Biochemistry
  • PSY 624 Clinical Neuroscience
  • PSY 573 Psychopathology
  • PSY 591 courses: Mathematical Psychology, History and Systems of Psychology or other courses deemed appropriate by the mentor, such as cell biology, genetics, immunology, etc.

Research (42 credit hours)

In-Depth Seminars. Two topical seminar courses, selected from those made available over the student's time in the program. These courses tend to be decided upon according to the interests of the current faculty and student body.

Research Seminar and Research Hours. Each semester, students enroll in PSY 598 Behavioral Neuroscience Research Seminar, a weekly forum for presenting new research and discussing current topics. In addition, students enroll in the milestone-related courses below:

  • PSY 590 Reading and Conference
  • PSY 592 Research
  • PSY 599 Thesis
  • PSY 790 Reading and Conference
  • PSY 792 Research

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

PSY 799 Dissertation 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What is the acceptance rate of students who apply?
  • There is not a certain quota of students that are accepted or declined. Generally, applicants are accepted based on the compatibility between the applicant’s research interest and an individual faculty member’s need.
  • Q: Does the behavioral neuroscience department have lab rotations the first year?
  • No, during the first year, students choose a research mentor under whose supervision they complete a “first year research project,” culminating in a paper and oral presentation. The presentation is scheduled at the end of the spring semester and has come to represent a celebration of the completion of the first year.
  • What kind of degree do I need to enter a graduate program in behavioral neuroscience?
  • Students with a Bachelors of Science or Bachelors of Arts degree from an accredited university are encouraged to apply. Most applicants have taken several basic science courses including: biology, chemistry and physiology.          
  • Q: Will my master's degree from a different area help my graduate studies in behavioral neuroscience?
  • Applicants are encouraged to apply from a variety of different disciplines. Each applicant will be reviewed on a case by case basis taking into consideration the nature of the graduate degree, the applicant's previous coursework, and research interests.   
  • Q: How much independent research can I expect in addition to my own research?
  • This is dependent on your mentor. If you are given a research assistantship expect to spend approximately 20 hours a week in addition to your own research project.
  • Q: Do I need research experience?
  • No, this is not a requirement, but it is a desired quality. Research techniques are usually learned in the process of completing your first year project. However, advisors typically will look for preliminary qualifications such as processing the scientific theory at a cognitive rather than a procedural level. It should be noted that most successful applicants do have some research experience that demonstrates their capacity to work in the lab and to think analytically. 

Financial Support


The Department of Psychology typically pays ASU tuition for full-time doctoral students with 20 hour-per-week graduate teaching or research assistantships. Tuition and fee information can be found on the ASU's general tuition webpage.


For 2022-23, doctoral student stipends in the Department of Psychology are: Pre-Masters $21,879 (9-month) summer $7,293 & Post-Master $22,379 (9-month) summer $7,459.

Fellowships and awards

Doctoral students are encouraged to apply for fellowships through the National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award program and through the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Other funding opportunities exist within specific areas of study and doctoral students should explore these possibilities with their faculty advisor/mentor.

In addition to government and external organizational fellowships, the Department of Psychology currently offers graduate scholar awards of $1,500 each to two students in any psychology doctoral program area in any year of study. Made possible by the generous donations of department faculty and others, these awards are intended to recognize the accomplishments of students who are demonstrating overall excellence in the psychology doctoral program. Excellence will be judged with respect to contributions to psychological science; and/or the teaching of psychology; and/or community involvement reflecting application of psychological knowledge. The deadline for all application materials, including a letter of support from a psychology faculty member, is typically mid-March.

Two other fellowship awards are also available to the department's doctoral students through endowed scholarships: The Robert B. Cialdini Dissertation Project Prize and the Martha E. Bernal Memorial Scholarship Award Endowment. Doctoral students in the developmental psychology and social psychology may similarly apply for endowed fellowships within their program areas.

Financial aid

There is no financial aid available through the department although such aid is available through the ASU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services; visit their site to explore financial aid opportunities.

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