Behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology

Psychology PhD specialization

Uncover the "why" in human and animal behavior in ASU's doctoral program in psychology with a focus on behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology.

Specialization description

Degree awarded: Psychology, PhD

Behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology (BNCP) is one of six degree specializations offered through ASU's PhD program in psychology. Students are trained in interdisciplinary research on cognitive, affective and social processes, as well as underlying neurobiological mechanisms. They work closely with faculty mentors and engage in preclinical models investigating topics like:

  • Addiction and drug abuse.
  • Aging across the lifespan in health and cognition.
  • Behavior of dogs and their wild relatives.
  • Health, cognitive and neurobiological consequences of chronic stress.
  • Negative emotional states.
  • Hormonal influences on behavior.
  • Menopause variants' impact on neurobiology and cognition.
  • Neural circuits and mechanisms that predict complex behaviors.
  • Sex differences in behavior.

The Department of Psychology fosters a collaborative learning environment. Students specializing in BNCP complete core curriculum unique to this area of study while interacting with faculty and students across all areas of psychology.

Important dates

  • September 1: Fall 2025 application opens.

  • December 1: Fall 2025 application deadline.

Students must submit ASU’s graduate application and the Department of Psychology’s Slideroom application to be considered for admission.

Faculty and research labs

Experience world-class academics taught by renowned professors who are leaders in the field of behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology.

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Dr. Heather Bimonte-Nelson

Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab 

The Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab characterizes hormone- and age- related cognitive, behavioral, and brain changes. Research addresses the impacts of transitional and surgical menopause variations, endogenous and exogenous sex hormone exposures across the lifetime, and how these factors intersect to impact lifetime trajectories in females.

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Dr. Cheryl Conrad

Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress Lab

How does stress influence brain plasticity and resilience? The Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress Lab use a chronic stress model to reveal physiological and behavioral symptoms akin to depression. Their breakthroughs are instrumental in promoting overall well-being and survival.

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Dr. Jonathan Gewirtz

Laboratory in Affective Neuroscience and Epigenetics

The Laboratory in Affective Neuroscience and Epigenetics uses rodent behavioral models, molecular and pharmacological tools, and multi-omic epigenomic sequencing to study mechanisms underlying vulnerability to drug addiction and other forms of mental illness, and their persistence over time.

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Dr. Foster Olive

Addiction Neuroscience Lab

Exploring the enduring impact of drug abuse on the brain, the Addiction Neuroscience Lab employs preclinical methods to identify, mitigate, or reverse related alterations. They investigate the roles of neurochemical and neuroinflammatory processes in understanding dependence, addiction, and associated changes.

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Dr. Federico Sanabria

Basic Behavioral Processes Lab

Investigates the fundamental building blocks of behavior and cognition common to many species, including learning, interval timing, choice, and regulation. They develop quantitative models of these processes through novel behavioral paradigms implemented in animal models.

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Dr. Jessica Verpeut

The SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab: Study of Circuits in Adolescent Life

Exploring neural activity, molecular mechanisms, and complex cognitive and social behavior in preclinical animal models, the SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab aims to identify novel therapeutic targets. Their research focuses on sensitive development periods, gene-environment interactions, and neuromodulators in cerebellar pathways.

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Dr. Clive Wynne

Canine Science Collaboratory

The Canine Science Collaboratory helps people and dogs live their best lives together. Current research focuses on identifying best practices in dog training, understanding human interpretation of dogs' emotional expressions, and investigating the impact of temporary fostering in animal shelters.

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Courses and electives

Graduate students in the behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology training area are expected to complete 84 credit hours. 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 and comparative psychology, two skill courses, at least one elective course to expand their breadth of study, and two in-depth seminars. This research-heavy program requires students to participate in weekly seminars, as well as complete a dissertation.

Core and skill courses (24 credits)

Core courses. Students select three 500-level courses covering the basic content in behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology.

Skill courses. Two required courses that integrate quantitative methodologies into students' work.

Electives (6 credits)

Elective breadth courses. At least one course selected from another area of study that will provide students with a broader perspective. These courses are discussed and deemed appropriate with a faculty mentor, and can include topics like:

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Sensation and perception
  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical neuroscience
  • Mathematical psychology
  • Cell biology
  • ... and more! 

Dissertation (12 credits)

Dissertation. Supervised research including literature review, research, data collection and analysis, and writing.

  • PSY 799 Dissertation

Research (42 credits)

In-depth seminars. Two topical seminar courses, selected from those made available over the student's time in the program. These courses are matched to the interests of the current faculty and students.

Research seminar and research hours. Each semester, students enroll in a psychology course that provides a weekly forum for presenting new research and discussing current topics.

In addition, students enroll in milestone courses where they complete independent study and meet regularly with a faculty member to discuss assignments and conduct research.

  • PSY 590 Reading and Conference
  • PSY 592 Research
  • PSY 599 Thesis
  • PSY 790 Reading and Conference
  • PSY 792 Research
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The behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology specialization is committed to training the future trailblazers of scientific discovery and academic leadership.

Faculty members serve not only as educators but also as mentors, guiding students towards impactful research and fulfilling careers, including tenured positions at universities and leadership roles within related industries and non-profit organizations.

Get in touch

  • For questions about the specialization, email the BNCP area head, Dr. Clive Wynne, directly at clive.wynne@asu.edu.

Other specialized areas of study