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Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience

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About Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience (BCN) area with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences focuses on investigating the biological basis for behavior and cognition. The faculty affiliated with this training area engage in NIH- and NSF-funded research using both humans and animals as they address topics ranging from human language to learning and memory to models of disorders.

Neuroscience Research

The content areas of research strength in the BCN area include:

  • Neurobiology of learning and memory
  • Animal behavior
  • Cognitive control
  • Sleep
  • Communication
  • Sensory processing
  • Neural circuitry of stress
  • Drug addiction
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Language

Our Approach

The BCN faculty use systems and cognitive neuroscience approaches to addressing their questions of interest. As a result, the BCN laboratories employ a wide variety of techniques, including neuronal recording, optogenetics, immunohistochemistry, fMRI, EEG, eye-tracking, computational modeling, brain stimulation / neuromodulation (DBS and TMS), and functional neuroanatomy, combined with different behavioral and cognitive approaches. Moreover, the BCN faculty collaborate extensively with colleagues across campus, including those in Biology, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurosurgery. Most of the BCN faculty are also members of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI), a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary neuroscience center, led by Dr. Ted Abel. Through the INI, graduate students in BCN laboratories have the opportunity to interact with a wide array of neuroscientists and broaden their skills sets even further. In addition, graduate students have the opportunity to attend weekly colloquia given by leading neuroscientists from across the country and around the world.

The Program

Graduate students interested in joining the laboratories of BCN faculty should apply through the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences PhD Program and choose the BCN training area. The training program for the BCN area uses a flexible, mentor-based approach that facilitates research, enabling students to be highly productive and setting them on a path toward becoming an independent scientist. Upon joining the program, students immediately join a lab and begin focusing their efforts on developing their laboratory skills and research ideas. Students also form a Research Advisory Committee of three faculty, including the mentor, who meet with and advise the student every semester until the student completes his/her Dissertation Prospectus, upon which the student's Dissertation Committee serves in a similar capacity. The BCN area's course requirements are relatively low to provide flexibility in each student's curriculum. There are two parallel curriculum sub-tracks within the BCN training, each will provide a tailored training curriculum for students interested in Behavioral Neuroscience (BN) or Cognitive Neuroscience (CN). (The new CN sub-track will be available to students starting Fall 2021.) Each BCN student must select one of these two sub-tracks, in consultation with their advisor and the RAC committee. The decision should be made upon matriculating into the graduate program.

Example of coursework for the Behavioral Neuroscience Sub-Track:
First Year


  • Fundamental Neurobiology
  • Quantitative Methods in Psychology (statistics)


  • Foundations in Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Elective 1

Second Year: Fall or Spring

  • Elective 2

Example of coursework for the Cognitive Neuroscience Sub-Track:
First Year


  • Foundations in Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Quantitative Methods in Psychology (statistics)


  • Functional Neuroanatomy
  • Programming for Psychologists

Second Year


  • Elective 1


  • Mixed-Effects Modeling for Psychology (Advanced Statistics)

Courses that students can select for electives include: 
NSCI:7235 Neurobiology of Disease
PSY:5203 Fundamental Neurobiology
PSY:5610 Proseminar in Cognition and Perception
PSY 6101 Cognitive Science Language Proseminar
PSY:6230 Foundations of Learning, Memory, and Cognition
PSY:6280 Structural Functional MRI Methods and Application
PSY:6370 Principles of Neuropsychology
PSY:6440 Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
PSY:6590 Judgment and Decision Making
PSY:7150 Analyzing Neural Time Series 
PSY:7150 Network Neuroscience
PSY:7610 Cognitive Neuroscience of Working Memory
PSY:7610 Eye Movements in Cognition
BME:5320 Bioinformatics Techniques
BIOS:6810 Bayesian Methods and Design
In addition, specialized seminar courses are typically offered every year by different faculty. Students also have the opportunity to take courses focused on skills development, such as research writing, and to take workshops across campus that focus on career development.

For full details regarding curricular requirements, please consult the BCN section in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Graduate Handbook (please note that the full description of the CN sub-track will be added to the 2021 Graduate Handbook during the summer of 2021).

In addition to the curricular requirements, students in the BCN area are required to complete a First-Year Project, which they present as part of the departmental Research Symposium during their second year. During their third year, students must complete their Prospectus, in which they propose their planned dissertation work. The Comprehensive Exam is folded into the Prospectus, enabling students to progress rapidly in their research toward their Ph.D.

Full financial support is provided to all graduate students in the program.


Prospective Graduate Students

Regardless of which training program you may be considering, we strongly encourage you to visit the faculty members' websites and to contact the individual faculty members whose work interests you. In addition, please feel free to email our training area coordinator Jason Radley.


View all Faculty in BCN


  • Bengi Baran

    Bengi Baran

    Assistant Professor

    Sleep-related developmental biomarkers of psychopathology; Psychotic disorders and individuals at familial/clinical high risk; Sleep electrophysiology; Resting-state functional connectivity MRI; Event-Related Potentials; Sleep-dependent memory consolidation and emotional processing

  • Mark 4-2023

    Mark Blumberg

    Department Chair, F. Wendell Miller Professor

    Development, functions, and neurophysiological mechanisms of sleep; sensorimotor processing in the developing nervous system

  • Demir-Lira

    Ece Demir-Lira

    Assistant Professor

    Developmental cognitive neuroscience; Academic development; Socioeconomic status; Parent-child interactions; Brain plasticity; Typical and atypical development;

  • John Freeman

    John Freeman

    Professor, Stuit Faculty Fellow

    Neurobiology of learning and memory; Developmental neurobiology of learning and memory

  • Kai Hwang

    Kai Hwang

    Assistant Professor

    Cognitive control; Developmental cognitive neuroscience; Brain network dynamics

  • Jiefeng Jiang

    Jiefeng Jiang

    Assistant Professor

    neurocomputational mechanisms of complex behavior; learning and memory of task structure and cognitive control demand; aging of executive function; computational modeling of cognitive processes; model-based neuroimaging analyis

  • Alan Kim Johnson

    Alan Kim Johnson


    Neural control of body fluid and cardiovascular homeostasis in health and disease

  • Dorit Kliemann

    Dorit Kliemann

    Assistant Professor

    Neural basis of social cognition; Compensation and reorganization; Social information processing; Amygdala; Functional connectivity; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Brain lesions; Human neuroimaging (fMRI); Brain-cognition-behavior relations.

  • Profile picture of Ryan LaLumiere

    Ryan LaLumiere

    Associate Professor

    Neurobiology of learning and memory; Neurobiology of addiction

  • Amanda McCleery

    Amanda McCleery

    Assistant Professor

    Psychosis and psychosis-risk; perception; cognition (social and non-social); neuroplasticity; interventions; community functioning

  • Picture of Professor McMurray

    Bob McMurray

    F. Wendell Miller Professor

    Speech Perception, Development, Word Learning, Cognitive Neuroscience, Individual Differences and Atypical populations.

  • J. Toby Mordkoff

    J. Toby Mordkoff

    Associate Professor

    selective and divided attention, correlational cuing, computational modeling, and psychophysiological measures

  • Muzzio photo

    Isabel Muzzio

    Ronnie Ketchel Professor

    Neurobiology of learning and memory; behavioral neuroscience; stress and emotion; spatial navigation; sleep and memory.

  • Isaac Petersen

    Isaac Petersen

    Assistant Professor

    Clinical child psychology, developmental psychopathology, externalizing behavior problems, self-regulation, school readiness, developmental cognitive neuroscience

  • Jason Radley

    Jason Radley

    Associate Professor

    Stress neurobiology; neural control of adaptive responses to stress; chronic stress-induced structural plasticity in cortical systems

  • James Traer

    James Traer

    Assistant Professor

    Ecological Inference. Perception of natural scenes, with a special focus on hearing and audiovisual integration; Intuitive physics and causal reasoning; Constructing and testing models that "hear the world like humans" with generative models, probabilistic inference, statistical signal processing, and machine learning; Biologically inspired technologies to aid the hearing-impaired; Models of biological information processing.

  • Daniel Tranel

    Daniel Tranel

    F. Wendell Miller Professor (Psychological & Brain Sciences/Neurology)

    Cognitive neuroscience; clinical and experimental neuropsychology

  • Shaun Vecera

    Shaun Vecera


    Visual attention and perception

  • Michelle Voss

    Michelle Voss

    Associate Professor

    Cognitive aging, exercise neuroscience, learning and memory, health behaviors

  • Edward Wasserman

    Edward Wasserman

    Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology

    Learning, memory, and cognition in humans and animals

  • jrw

    Jan Wessel

    Associate Professor (Psychological & Brain Sciences, Neurology)

    Neural mechanisms for flexible behavior and cognition