Dr. Bradley Cooke, an assistant professor in Georgia State University’s Neuroscience Institute, has received the $650,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, one of 18 awarded by the NSF’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems in the last year.
Cooke will receive the award over the next five years to study how rising levels of gonadal hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, change behavior, motivation and perception during puberty.
The CAREER award recognizes junior faculty from across the nation who have exemplified the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research and integration of education and research. It is the NSF’s most prestigious award for early career faculty.
Research has shown that social priorities reorient themselves during puberty. While boys and girls prefer to socialize with members of their own sex prior to puberty, rising gonadal hormones radically alter perception of the opposite sex, eliciting a powerful incentive to bring the sexes together.
Understanding how this new mode of perception develops is the main focus of the award, said Cooke, who in addition to being a member of the Neuroscience Institute faculty, holds a joint appointment in Georgia State’s Department of Psychology.
“As anyone who’s gone through puberty knows, it’s a time of major physiological and psychological changes, which are due to the effect of gonadal hormones on the brain and body,” he said. “We are interested in characterizing what those changes are, how they occur, and what specific effects they have on behavior.”
The research will focus on a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is very sensitive to sex steroid hormones and involved in the evaluation of biologically meaningful stimuli. Cooke’s hypothesis is that neural plasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize by forming new neural connections, underlies the changes in perception during puberty that occurs in the amygdala.