The proposal is to renew a Training Program for Years 6-10, that trains predoctoral students in the mechanisms of learning across development and species. Learning is fundamental to adaptive behavior. It involves acquiring and modifying information, behaviors, and skills. Learning also is productive: it extends itself through induction, deduction, and integration. Mechanisms of learning is a critical area for predoctoral research training because learning has pervasive impacts in both adaptive and maladaptive behavior, and must be an integral part of any successful mental health or educational intervention. The Training Faculty are drawn from the Department of Psychology, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (YNPRC), and the interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program, all of Emory University. The primary training sites are the Department of Psychology and the YNPRC. The 19-member Training Faculty approach the study of the mechanisms of learning as they manifest throughout development in healthy and clinical populations using genetic, comparative, computational, developmental, neurobiological, and neuropsychological techniques. They examine how additive and subtractive changes in the brain relate to developmental changes in learning, and how diverse species acquire and modify knowledge ranging from simple associations to culturally-mediated rituals and traditions. The diversity of ages, species, and circumstances in which learning mechanisms are studied at Emory provides rich opportunities for accumulation of converging evidence about these mechanisms, and thus for equipping the next generation of scientists with the skills necessary for understanding basic mechanisms of learning. Moreover, the training site is ideally suited to address the priority of the NIH to improve the translation of basic behavioral and social sciences research through our integration of basic research among the range of biological, behavioral, and social disciplines that contribute to the shaping of behavior across both ontogeny and phylogeny. We request three predoctoral trainees per year, each of whom will be trained for 3 years. Trainees are drawn from among Emory's highly-selective Laney Graduate School. Trainees complete all departmental/program requirements for the Ph.D. The Training Program provides added value through several specific enhancements, including (a) explicit co- mentoring and collaborative research experiences across species, ages or methodologies; (b) intensive training in grant and other professional writing; (c) advanced training in ethics and the responsible conduct of research; (d) participation in courses, workshops and research forums specific to research on learning across development and species; and (e) application of empirically supported best practices in graduate training, including vertical (faculty-student) and horizontal (peer learning) education models.

Public Health Relevance

The study of mechanisms of learning across development and species is essential for understanding basic cognitive processes and function. It also will provide the necessary knowledge for intervention in clinical contexts, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in which learning is centrally implicated, and educational contexts, in which learning obviously is fundamental. We stand to gain significant leverage by better integrating the neurobiological and behavioral bases of learning across phylogeny and ontogeny.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Institutional National Research Service Award (T32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1)
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Griffin, James
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Emory University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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