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Akshat Vyas

Assistant Professor of Psychology

  • B.S. in Human Biology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences
  • M.Phil. in Psychology, City University of New York
  • Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience, City University of New York
  • Postdoctoral research in Neurophysiology, Columbia University

Why Psychology?

When I entered academia, I had no idea that I would end up being a psychologist. I just pursued my passions, and they lead me to the study of psychological processes.

For my undergraduate education, I went to a medical school. There I was introduced to neuroscience, and I was fascinated by how brain produces emotions, motivations and consciousness. I wanted to pursue these further, and as it turns out, a branch of psychology, biopsychology, is devoted to studying biological bases of psychological processes. I pursued graduate education in biopsychology and have been a biopsychologist ever since.

I have been a student of psychology for over a decade now and the academic diversity of Psychology still astounds and fascinates me. I have seen people from vastly different fields -- medicine, engineering, sociology, mathematics -- being attracted to psychology and contribute towards the growth of the field. As I understand, if you are interested in human conditions, you will be naturally drawn towards psychology, and that is what makes me a psychologist.

My Research Interests

I am fascinated with how different motivational states shape animals’ perception of their environment and influence their behavior. For example, depending upon breeding condition, animals behave towards potential mates very differently. During breeding condition, animals actively seek and solicit potential mates. However, outside of breeding condition, animals not only ignore potential mates, they may even respond aggressively towards any sexual overtures.

Sexual and other such motivations influence animals’ interactions not only with their social environment, but also their physical environment. I am interested in studying how different motivations influence animal behavior, their perception and neural processing of sensory information. Because of the limitations on research that can be done with humans, animal models in which brain can be studied at high levels of resolution are important for understanding different motivational states influence psychophysiology. I use zebra finches as animal models to study these issues. Zebra finches are sexually dimorphic songbirds; males sing and females do not. Young males learn their fathers’ songs and adult males sing to attract females. Females use songs to judge the quality of males as potential mates. Zebra finches are excellent model animals to study auditory perception, the neural processing of sound and motivational influences on sensory processing.

i. How does reproductive status influences sound perception?

This is a continuation and extension of my graduate and postdoctoral work. Individual zebra finches sing unique songs that vary in acoustic complexity. My graduate work showed that females prefer acoustically complex songs over simple songs, but do so only when their estrogen levels are high. My postdoctoral work showed that estrogen profoundly influences how sound is coded by the midbrain auditory neurons. I will extend this further in two directions. a) I will investigate by neuropharmacological manipulations, what neuromodulators mediate estrogenic effects on auditory processing and perception and; b) Using synthetic stimuli, I will investigate if estrogen influences changes in basic auditory psychophysics.

ii. How does the  induction of parental state influence parent psychophysiology?

The zebra finch is an excellent model for studying how the induction of parental state influences physiology and behavior. Zebra finch offspring are very weak when they hatch, and usually require extensive care by both parents. It is not unusual for new pairs to fail at early attempts at parenting. Reasons for this remain unknown, but it does provide an opportunity to study biological differences between those who fail, and those who do not. Parental behavior in zebra finches is extremely susceptible to environmental stress. Depending upon the nature and magnitude of stress, they change parenting strategies. These include changing investment in chicks or even killing them. I will investigate how different stressors are perceived, and how they influence parental psychophysiology. I will also investigate how zebra finch parents identify their chicks, and if induction of parental state is plays a role in chick identification.