Science students win awards at Texas research competition
May 6, 2010 By Cindy Long
Four psychology and behavioral neuroscience students traveled Dallas to present their research findings at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Comparative Psychological Association on April 8-10, 2010. Emily Sither, a behavioral neuroscience major from Lexington, Ky., and Amanda Glueck, a psychology major from Hustonville, Ky., placed in the undergraduate research competition.
Sither won first-place for her talk titled, “Anticipating Sexual Interactions Improves Behavioral Efficiency and Reproductive Success in Japanese Quail.” Glueck won third-place for her talk titled, “Male Japanese Quail Mating Strategies Are Determined by Previous Mating Success.”
Senior Haley Siler of Stugis, Ky., and junior Emily Gregory, a behavioral neuroscience major from Louisville presented their research as well.
The group traveled with faculty collaborators Brian Cusato, associate professor of psychology, and Melissa Burns-Cusato, assistant professor of psychology. The research and travel was funded through Cusato’s National Institutes of Heath (NIH) grant.
“The purpose of our study is to investigate the effects of Pavlovian conditioning on the sexual behavior and efficiency of male and female Japanese quail,” Sither says. “Our results are showing that both auditory and visual cues are effective, and birds experiencing conditioning learn to anticipate future sexual interactions. As a result, they show greater behavioral efficiency in the sexual interactions and greater fertility rates after sexual interactions.”
Sither feels that the conference was a great chance to learn.
“Presenting at new places is always good experience and, fortunately, I was traveling with mentors and friends who offered plenty of encouragement, useful criticism and support.”
“Through the research I've been doing for the past year, I've noticed a variety of different ways that mother quail relate to their offspring when they’re exposed to them,” Gregory says. “Some nurture their offspring and allow their offspring to cuddle under their wings, and some completely ignore them. Dr. Burns-Cusato was really encouraging and helped me hone my idea and make it into a research question that we could test. And here we are more than a year later, and we’re still coming up with new questions to ask about this topic!
“Next year, for my John C. Young scholarship,” Gregory continues, “I’m using the hormone prolactin (known to be responsible for incubation and other parental behaviors in many avian species) to try and induce parental behaviors in the neglectful mothers to see if the mechanism of parent-offspring kin recognition is genetic relatedness or social exposure. I’m doing research with Dr. Burns-Cusato this summer to begin work on some preliminary studies.
“Research has been a huge part of my Centre experience, and I really hope I get to continue it after graduation,” she says. “I plan to attend medical school after Centre and hopefully get involved in some sort of research there. I really want to be an OB-GYN and I think this experience has helped me prepare for that; some of the frustrations that you have to deal with during the research process I feel have really prepared me for dealing with things like being on-call as a physician, long hours of studying in medical school, etc. I’ve spent some long days in the lab this year!”
For more about science majors at Centre, click here.