Megan Arnold is currently completing her Ph.D. in cognitive and behavioral sciences at Auburn University under the supervision of Dr. M. Christopher Newland. Her research focuses on differences in the effects of establishing a history of variable responding during adolescence on subsequent learning in adulthood in two mouse strains: C57BL/6 and BALB/c. BALB/c mice have some behavioral and neurological characteristics similar to individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), such as reduced social approach, aggression, anxiety, and reduced global serotonin compared to other mouse strains such as the C57BL/6. As such, the BALB/c strain has been proposed as a murine model of ASDs. Megan’s research will assess whether the BALB/c strain may also model invariant responding, which is characteristic of ASDs, by assessing differences between these two strains on an operant variability task. Invariant responding also impairs the acquisition of new tasks/behaviors that require novel responses or variable patterning of already learned responses. Establishing a history of behavioral variability in adolescence, a time when important brain development occurs, could not only alter learning novel response chains in adulthood, but also permanently change sensitivity to drug probes, particularly dopaminergic drugs. In Megan’s future research, she plans to assess the interaction of variability training and relevant neurochemical systems.
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