During social interactions our brains are able to process the social context and produce appropriate behaviors. For most people, this happens seamlessly; however, for individuals with disorders like autism, knowing how to behave in specific social contexts is much more difficult or impossible. Our research program aims to elucidate the molecular and neural mechanisms that govern optimal social behavior. We address this question using the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni, a model system for studying social behavior. A. burtoni form social hierarchies, where males compete for high rank. These hierarchies, however, are not fixed: lower ranking males constantly survey the social environment waiting for an opportunity to ascend in social rank. We dissect this “social calculus” using an integrative toolkit (see figure to the right) ranging from next-generation sequencing, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, and rich social behavior paradigms to reveal the molecular and neural basis of social plasticity. For more information about ongoing research visit alwardlab.com.
- Developmental trajectories of social behavior
- Neural circuitry underlying social status
- Neural and hormonal basis of aggression