Dr. Alexander G. Ophir – Principal Investigator

0839_13_004_select.jpgCornell University
Department of Psychology
Behavioral & Evolutionary Neuroscience
Twitter: @alexophir
Download my CV here


Research Interests: Proximate & ultimate influences on social behavior: including individual variation in genes, brain and behavior; monogamy and social attachment; alternative reproductive tactics; parental care; early life social influence on development; social & spatial memory; mate choice; animal communication; reproductive decision-making.

Dr. Angela R. Freeman – Postdoctoral Fellow:

2017 – Present
 PhD (2016), Kent State University

MSc (2012), University of Manitoba

BA (2008) University of Waterloo

Research Interests: social communication, signaler-receiver interactions, vasopressin and oxytocin, social recognition, behavioral ecology, neuroethology

Specific Interests:

My research in the Ophir lab focuses on pouched rat olfaction. Specifically, I am looking into how these rodents search out particular scents in a ‘noisy’ environment, how they discriminate between odors, and how they might ‘hone in’ on particularly salient odors. This work expands on my previous experience investigating signaler-receiver interactions, as I have examined acoustic signals in Indian peafowl and the influence of vasopressin on vocalizations and behavior in Richardson’s ground squirrels. As I was originally trained as an ecologist, I tend to ask questions related to how different behaviors (and the neural mechanisms underlying these behaviors) influence interactions between individuals and groups in the wild.

Dr. Jesus Madrid – Postdoctoral Fellow:

2019 – Present
PhD (2018), Stanford University

BA (20012) Columbia University


Research Interests: Developmental plasticity, social perception, oxytocin, vasopressin, social behavior, mating strategies

Specific Interests:

Social interactions require behavioral specializations (e.g., conspecific recognition, social signaling, formation of bonds…etc.) which are enabled by the evolution of specific neurobiological mechanisms. My research uses an ethological framework to study how neurobiological function is related to variation in social behaviors in mammals.

My research in the Ophir lab focuses on how the early social environment contributes to later mating strategies. More specifically, I am asking whether differences in vasopressin receptors underlie this developmental relationship.

This project builds on my previous dissertation work, where I identified factors contributing to the development of individual differences in social behavior in the rhesus macaque. More specifically I investigated whether infant carriers of a 5-HTTLPR genotype associated with susceptibility to adverse rearing, are responsive to enhanced maternal care. Additionally, I tested the relationships between markers of oxytocin and vasopressin function, differences in the perception of socially-relevant stimuli, and variation in sociality.

Dr. Lindsay Sailer – Postdoctoral Fellow:

2019 – Present
PhD (2018), Florida State University

BA (2010) University of North Florida


Research Interests: social bonding, partner preference, early-life experiences, social aggression, vasopressin, oxytocin, chemogenetics, epigenetics, individual differences

Specific Interests:

I am interested in investigating how early-life adversity can alter the neurochemical integrity of brain regions and pathways important for social interactions and pair bonding. Specifically, I want to understand how the quality and quantity of parental care can shape the development of social behaviors and how exposure to stressful environments can alter social affilation and pair bonding. I plan to approach these topics by integrating genetic, epigenetic, and chemogenetic techniques to probe the function of the vasopressin and oxytocin systems.

Dr. Wen-Yi Wu – Postdoctoral Associate:

2016 – Present
Wen-YiPhD (2016), National Taiwan University

MMS (2008) Tzu Chi University

BN (2005) National Taipei College of Nursing

Research Interests: neural basis of prosocial behavior, oxytocin and vasopressin

Specific Interests: I investigate the neural mechanism of empathy-like prosocial behaviors of the rats. I am also interested in investigating the neurophysiological substrates of social and spatial representation in the rodent brain.

Caitlyn Finton – PhD Student:

2016 – Present
Caitlyn FintonBS (2016), Indiana University

Research Interests: Interactions between environment, neurobiology, and behavior; prosocial and affiliative behaviors; behavioral ecology; differences in male and female behavior.

Specific Interests: I am interested in how environmental factors influence neurobiology and behavior, particularly prosocial and affiliative behaviors. These environmental factors could be specifically related to the physical environment, such as the density of food resources, or they could be the social environment of the individual. In addition, I am interested in investigating female behavior as it relates to affiliative behaviors, socio-spatial memory, and reproductive decisions. My lab approach is a mixture of field and laboratory studies.

Santiago Forero – PhD Student:

2018 – Present
 NSF Graduate Research Fellow

BS (2017), Texas A&M University
Research Interests: Neuroethology, evolutionary neuroscience, social behavior, mate choice, neurogenetic manipulation, early life cognitive development
Specific Interests: I am interested in how early life social experiences, genetics, and environmental factors shape the animal brain. By looking at the neural and genetic bases of how evolution has shaped animal behavior, I look to provide a means of defining the mechanisms of brain development and linking behavior to neural networks. By objectively studying natural behaviors of animals and identifying the neural mechanisms involved, I hope to begin to develop a greater understanding for their evolutionary ontogeny and their necessity for adaptation. In the lab, I look to identify brain development being translated into cognitive function. Using behavioral assays, I hope to create abnormal behaviors that give me a chance to explore consequential abnormalities in the brain. In order to regulate these abnormalities, I will be exploring neuroendocrinological methods as well as neurogenetic manipulation techniques.

Lisa Hiura – PhD Student:

2015 – Present
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
2015-7 Lisa HiuraBA (2014), Reed College
Research Interests: Social reinforcement, neurobiology of selective affiliation and prosocial behaviors

Specific Interests: I am interested in investigating how environmental variables and neurochemical mechanisms interact to give rise to prosocial behavior. In particular, I am interested in seeing how variation in social experiences during development may impact adult phenotypes of mate choice and bonding behaviors, and how these experiences may be influenced by or impart changes upon oxytocin and vasopressin expression. I aim to accomplish this task by developing behavioral paradigms that better assess the ecologically relevant variables that may contribute to differences in observed social behaviors among prairie voles.

Marissa Rice – PhD Student:

2011 – Present
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
NSF Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (OK-LSAMP) Bridge to the Doctorate Fellow
marissaBS (2011), Virginia Tech
Email: mr868@cornell.eduResearch Interests: Cognitive ecology, mating tactics, spatial memory, behavioral ecology, neural basis of learning & memory.

Specific Interests: I investigate the ecological impacts and neural mechanisms of spatial ability. I’m interested in how spatial ability (i.e., navigation, learning, and memory) affects individual mating tactics, and how neural mechanisms shape spatial ability and inform socio-spatial decision making.

My approach integrates lab and field techniques to answer proximate and ultimate questions concerning the relationship between spatial memory, neuromodulators, mating behavior, and reproductive success. In the lab I can manipulate and assess parameters such as social recognition, spatial memory, affiliation, etc. And in the field I’m able to observe mating tactics and decisions under semi-natural conditions and quantify reproductive success.

 Lab Alumni:
David Zheng
PhD Student: 2009 – 2013
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
Current Position: PhD Student, University of Texas
PhD Student: 2009 – 2015
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
NSF Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (OK-LSAMP) Bridge to the Doctorate Fellow
Current Position: MD (University of Kansas), Pediatrics
Postdoc Associate: 2012-2016
TED Fellow
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University
PhD Student: 2011 – 2018
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship – two time Honorable Mention
Current Position: Postdoc, University of California, Berkeley
Postdoc Associate: 2014-2018
NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellow
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Emory University