Denison University’s 178th Commencement took place on Saturday, May 18. Watch the ceremony in its entirety including commencement keynote speaker Jennifer Garner ’94.
Dr. Brooks came to Denison in 2000 and teaches courses in learning and conditioning, animal cognition, and related topics. His research interests focus on the basic learning and memory processes that influence treatment (e.g., of anxiety or substance abuse disorders) and the relapse of unwanted behaviors after treatment. He is interested in understanding those processes that can change behaviors motivated by emotions and/or biological need. He and his students have developed techniques for reducing and even eliminating some instances of relapse modeled in the laboratory. Some of Dr. Brooks' other interests include addiction, the history of psychology, and the role of diet and thought in mental health.
Pavlovian Conditioning, Memory, Emotion, and Relapse
My research program involves basic research on the learning and memory processes that modulate emotionally- and motivationally- significant experiences, and the behaviors that accompany those experiences. I am especially interested in the use of animal models to better understand the learning and memory processes that underlie instances of human relapse of problematic behaviors with emotional components (e.g., substance abuse, anxiety, depression). Believe it or not, the methods of Pavlovian conditioning are uniquely suited to the study of these and any emotion-based behaviors.
Since Ivan P. Pavlov's time in Russia (circa 1890-1925), psychologists and other scientists have come to realize the fundamental importance of Pavlovian (classical) conditioning for the development of and change in many involuntary ("non-conscious" and other) responses experienced by humans and other animals. These responses are the result of Pavlovian conditioning, and include heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory, and perspiration changes; emotional reactions like anxiety, fear, excitement, frustration; drug tolerance, withdrawal and craving; and motivational influences on many voluntary behaviors such as feeding, competition, reproduction, and pleasure-seeking activities, to name just a few.
An increasingly popular idea about Pavlovian conditioning is that it results in the formation of memories involving the events that are present in an organism's environment when they have emotionally-significant experiences. My research focuses on what the content of those memories is, and what happens to those memories (e.g., how memorable they become) usually at some time after they have formed. Sometimes various different memories can interact, and in some cases, the memory of a particular experience can be retrieved more or less well compared to other memories. This disparity in the ability to retrieve certain memories can produce dramatic changes in behavior.
My research is directed at three interrelated fronts:
I would be happy to talk with students about any aspect of these intriguing and challenging areas of research, and related topics. Please contact me for questions or comments about my research program.