Nicole M. Baran Assistant Professor of Biology
- Ph.D., Cornell University
- B.A., The University of Chicago
Areas of Expertise
- Behavioral neuroendocrinology
- Evolutionary developmental biology
- Songbird social behavior
I am an interdisciplinary behavioral neuroendocrinologist and vertebrate biologist. I am especially fascinated by the evolution and development of complex behaviors like pair bonding, parental care, and vocal learning—behaviors that humans share with songbirds.
In my lab, we study two species of songbirds: the zebra finch and an unusually social domesticated songbird strain, the Society finch. Through developmental experiments in the lab, we investigate how social experiences, hormones, gene expression in the brain, and the genome together shape social development, particularly socially guided vocal learning. Similar to human infants, male songbirds learn their courtship song through highly contingent social interactions with adults. Female songbirds learn to recognize the sounds of and come to prefer species-typical songs through interactions with adults, as well. Thus, the study of the mechanisms that support this socially guided vocal learning in songbirds provides fundamental insights into vocal learning in our own species, with many applications for neurodevelopmental disorders.
Work in my lab is highly integrative and combines approaches from multiple disciplines at the intersection of behavioral biology, neuroendocrinology, neuroscience, evolutionary developmental biology, and genomics. I aim to create a classroom and lab environment that is welcoming and accessible for all students, with the goal of nurturing students’ curiosity and learning.