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Basic Behavioral Processes Lab (Sanabria)

Keywords:  learning; time perception; response inhibition; choice; animal models; computational models

Lab Research Area:

Our laboratory investigates basic behavioral and cognitive processes in various species, and their implication in behavioral dysregulation. These processes include learning, timing, choice, and impulsivity. Our research relies heavily on the formulation of quantitative models of learning and behavior, on the design and validation of novel behavioral paradigms, and on the use of animal models.

Current Projects

Real-time models of behavior. The main purpose of these models is to analytically isolate changes in motivation, learning, and sensorimotor capacity in free-operant performance, such as during the acquisition, maintenance, and extinction of food and drug self-administration. Together, these models have been used to account for spontaneous exploratory behavior (Cabrera et al., 2013), Pavlovian conditioning (Killeen et al., 2009), instrumental behavior (Brackney et al., 2011; Daniels & Sanabria, 2017a) and its disruption (Brackney et al., 2017), adjunctive behavior (Íbias et al., 2015, 2017), choice (Sanabria & Thrailkill, 2009), and timing (Daniels & Sanabria, 2017b).

Response inhibition capacity (RIC). Impulsivity is a broad construct that encompasses multiple behavioral problems, including a reduced capacity to withhold reinforced responses. This capacity is known as response inhibition capacity (RIC); its deficit is a characteristic of multiple psychiatric disorders, including depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Our laboratory has validated a method for assessing RIC in animal models (Watterson et al., 2015). We have applied this method to demonstrate (for the first time!) a methylphenidate (Ritalin)-induced enhancement and a stress-induced reduction of RIC in rats (Hill et al., 2012). We have also shown that nicotine reduces RIC in an animal model of ADHD (Mazur et al., 2014). We are currently adapting this method to study RIC in healthy and genetically modified mice. 

Temporal and spatial control of behavior. Our laboratory is concerned with dissociating timing processes from non-timing processes embedded within instrumental behavior (Daniels & Sanabria, 2017b). To accomplish this, our laboratory has examined a novel timing paradigm, has compared performance in this task across species, including humans, and has examined the sensitivity of task performance to nicotine administration. On the spatial dimension, we have demonstrated the contribution of spatial variables (motion and correlation) to Pavlovian sign-tracking (Cabrera et al., 2009; Mazur & Sanabria, 2011). On the olfactory dimension, we have begun exploring how odors are represented in the brains of mice. 

Join the Lab!

Principal Investigator & Lab Director

Dr. Federico Sanabria, PhD; Associate Professor (CV)

Dr. SanabriaDr. Sanabria’s expertise is on the experimental investigation of basic behavioral and cognitive processes underlying behavioral regulation in various species such as learning, timing, choice, and response inhibition. He is also interested in the application of this research to the study of psychiatric disorders — primarily substance abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Sanabria is currently president of the International Society for Comparative  Psychology; associate editor for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and Learning & Behavior; and he coordinates the program committee for the annual convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI).

Current Doctoral Students

Carter Daniels, M.A. (ASU Profile)

Carter DanielsCarter’s interests include the processes underlying behavioral regulation and psychophysics. His work has focused on utilizing analytical models to provide novel insights on how reinforcer value modulates time perception. He is also interested in the interaction between drugs and reinforcer habituation, the role of response topography in conditioning, and the development of procedures designed to validate our theoretical assumptions about behavior. Carter graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy, and a minor in Cognitive Science. Master’s Thesis: Interval Timing Under a Behavioral Microscope: Dissociating Timing and Motivational Processes in Fixed Interval Performance.

Tanya Gupta (ASU Profile)

Tanya is interested in research regarding the dissociation of discrete elements of learning and conditioning, as well as environmental and biological influences on the learning process. She is also interested in the modeling of different neurological and psychiatric disease states, and observing the bearing that these states have on behavioral processes. Tanya graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Biology. While there, she conducted research on the neural indices of social exclusion, while also studying patterns of place-avoidance conditioning in Zebrafish.


Current Undergraduate and Post-Baccalaureate Students

McAllister Stephens, Sarah Sparks, Rachael Halby, Christina McBroom, Abrahm Coury, Denise Inguito, Jorge Espinoza, Lesley Estrada, Jessica Pleasant


Join the Lab!

What you may expect from the lab

Work in the lab consists of 9 h/week of various duties involving laboratory animals (typically rats and mice). The schedule and nature of these duties are arranged between new lab members and their supervisor before joining the lab. Laboratory duties typically include monitoring the welfare of laboratory animals, transporting them to testing rooms, verifying the integrity of testing equipment and data, and regularly presenting data to other lab members. Interested lab members with sufficient experience (typically with at least 6 months of experience in the lab) may lead their own projects, present posters at scientific conferences, and serve as co-authors in peer-reviewed scientific publications.

You may expect to learn empirical and analytic techniques that are key to conduct research on animal behavior and cognition. You may also broaden your knowledge on animal models of psychiatric disorders such as substance use disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Work and learning is expected to complement each other, and to take place in a collegial, cooperative environment.

What the lab expects from you

All lab members are expected to:

  • Work in the laboratory a minimum of 9 h/week (3 credit hours/semester) for each of 2 academic semesters (this includes the week of final exams in each semester).
  • Students taking PSY 499 credit or supported by WAESO for work in the lab, are expected to write a report of their work by the end of the semester in which they were supported.
  • Attend a weekly or biweekly lab meeting.
  • Performance in the lab is expected to be: punctual, dedicated, and conscientious.

Steps to join the lab

  • Send an email to Tanya Gupta or Carter Daniels at tgupta13@asu.edu and cwdaniel@asu.edu, respectively. If there is an opening available, an interview and lab tour will be arranged.
  • After the interview and lab tour, you must obtain clearance to work with animals from the Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHSP). Download their form here; follow the instructions in the form.
  • Once you send your OHSP form, you will need a certification to work with rats and mice; complete Levels I and II. The link and instructions of Level I are here, and for Level II are here. For Level II, only complete the sections “The Humane Care and Use of the Laboratory Mouse” and “The Humane Care and Use of the Laboratory Rat”. Remember: username = “asu”, password = “animals”.
  • Let your supervisor know that you have completed your training. S/he will provide you with instructions to obtain clearance to access animal housing and testing areas, and to complete Level III training.


Past Graduate Students

Dr. Ryan Brackney (2015)

Dr. Elizabeth Watterson (2015)

Dr. Gabriel Mazur (2014)


Past Visiting Scholars

Angel Jimenez Ortiz (Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico)

Javier Ibias (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain)

Beatriz Robayo (Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico)

Pablo Covarrubias (Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico)

Felipe Cabrera (Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico)


Past Undergraduate Research Assistants (last 3 years)

Paula Overby

Korinna Romero

Ryan Becker

Christine Herrera

Sophia Parmenter

Rockell Schmidt

Hollie Smith

Fiorella Estrada

Luis Lopez

Sanjana Khanna

Briana Martinez

Andrew Nye

Natasha Sinchuk

Paulina Solis

Select and Recent Publications

For a full list of publications please visit Dr. Federico Sanabria’s Google scholar profile.

Most Recent 10 Publications:


Jiménez, Á. A., Sanabria, F., & Cabrera, F. (2017). The effect of lever height on the microstructure of operant behavior. Behavioural Processes, 140, 181-189.

Daniels, C. W., & Sanabria, F. (2017). About bouts: A heterogeneous tandem schedule of reinforcement reveals dissociable components of operant behavior in Fischer rats. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition43(3), 280.

Íbias, J., Daniels, C. W., Miguéns, M., Pellón, R., & Sanabria, F. (2017). The Effect of Methylphenidate on the Microstructure of Schedule-Induced Polydipsia in an animal model of ADHD. Behavioural brain research333, 211.

Bell, M. C., & Sanabria, F. (2017). Failure to find a distance effect in pigeon choice. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior108, 1-16

Brackney, R. J., Cheung, T. H., & Sanabria, F. (2017). A bout analysis of operant response disruption. Behavioural processes141, 42-49

Daniels, C. W., & Sanabria, F. (2017). Interval timing under a behavioral microscope: Dissociating motivational and timing processes in fixed-interval performance. Learning & behavior45(1), 29-48.


Watterson, E., Spitzer, A., Watterson, L. R., Brackney, R. J., Zavala, A. R., Olive, M. F., & Sanabria, F. (2016). Nicotine-induced behavioral sensitization in an adult rat model of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Behavioural brain research312, 333-340.


Watterson, E., Daniels, C. W., Watterson, L. R., Mazur, G. J., Brackney, R. J., Olive, M. F., & Sanabria, F. (2015). Nicotine-induced place conditioning and locomotor activity in an adolescent animal model of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Behavioural brain research291, 184-188.

Brackney, R. J., & Sanabria, F. (2015). The distribution of response bout lengths and its sensitivity to differential reinforcement. Journal of the experimental analysis of behavior, 104(2), 167-185.

Watterson, E., Mazur, G. J., & Sanabria, F. (2015). Validation of a method to assess ADHD-related impulsivity in animal models. Journal of neuroscience methods252, 36-47.

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