Psychology students at Champlain are taking their knowledge to the next level through the college’s very own Behavioral Neuroscience Lab. Led by professor and co-director of the Psychology program Barbara Colombo, the lab is a tool for teaching students to run experiments, use equipment, clean and analyze data, and make meaning out of their findings. 

“I can work directly with the students who are passionate about behavioral neuroscience, and we can focus on a project,” Colombo said. “They can follow all the steps, from data collection to data cleaning. They can be published, which is unlikely to happen for undergraduate students.”

In fact, 70 percent of the research published from the lab lists students as co-authors, giving them insight into the scientific writing and publishing process, and recognition in their field when it comes to job opportunities.

The lab’s research enters around three main topics, including cognitive reserve and aging populations, emotional regulation (affective neuroscience), and health and well-being. Along with providing undergraduate students opportunities to conduct graduate-level academic research, their work is boosting neuropsychological research at the college and the state of Vermont. 

One recent study analyzed the correlation between targeted nerve stimulation (neurostimulation) and music, and how emotional responses can intervene in the economic decision-making process. “After cathodal stimulation participants tended to be more strategic when making decisions, differentiating their offers depending on the responder’s characteristics,” the study says.

The study relied on the use of the Behavioral Neuroscience Lab’s transcranial Direct Current Stimulator (tCDS)—one of only a few machines across New England—that scientists use to non-invasively and temporarily increase or decrease targeted areas of the brain in neuroscience research.

Learn more about Dr. Colombo.

In another study conducted during Covid-19 lockdown, Colombo and members of the lab creatively worked around social distancing constraints by tapping into blogs in the virtual world. Their study explored how blogging affected levels of cognitive reserve and well-being in older adults throughout the pandemic.

“We work on the concept of cognitive reserve—if you have a higher cognitive reserve, your brain will be better at responding to stress. Aging can be considered a form of stress,” said Colombo. “We assessed their perceived well-being and their cognitive reserve at the beginning and at the end, and compared the results with a control group.”

The team concluded that cognitive reserve and overall well-being increased through ad hoc activities designed by lab members to be performed as a community by blogging.

More recently, members of the lab assessed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in patients who survived severe cases of Covid-19 compared to individuals who never got the virus or suffered only mild symptoms. Along with PTSD, they measured anxiety, depression, and cognitive reserve levels in the same individuals.

“We found that the cognitive reserve was a protective factor in both patients and other people, but much more so for patients in predicting the severity of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms after Covid,” Colombo said.

Colombo and her team of students concluded that there are a few strategic ways to maintain cognitive and behavioral health: be creative, try new things, and interact with people you love.

Looking to get involved with our Behavioral Neuroscience Lab? Contact Barbara Colombo at bcolombo@champlain.edu.

Haley Seymour
Class of 2023
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