Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Neuroscience of Stress and Reward: Circuit Fundamentals of Emotional Arousal

PSYC 52N

How do our brains translate thoughts and experiences into feelings of pain or pleasure? Why do some people struggle more than others with social isolation, addictive habits, poor quality sleep, unexpected life challenges, or societal pressures? More importantly, what can we do about it?

This course provides an introduction to contemporary studies from psychology, neurobiology, and psychiatry that explain fundamentals of emotions & behavior. We will focus on the underlying neural basis of mental health conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and addiction, while also covering the science of resilience and potential benefits of stress. We will cover foundational concepts that build knowledge in core areas of neuroscience spanning genetics, physiology, endocrinology (hormones), pharmacology (drugs), anatomy, behavior, neurotechnology, and psychiatric patient care. 

After taking this course, you should be able to…

  • Demonstrate knowledge on basic anatomy and physiology of emotional brain circuits

  • Explain how neurotransmitters and drugs act on receptors and signaling proteins in the brain

  • Analyze information about genetic and environmental contributions to anxiety and addiction

  • Design experiments that will test hypotheses aimed at advancing neurobiological knowledge

  • Evaluate the strengths and limitations of existing frameworks for mental health and behavior

  • Expound on recent technological advances for neural modulation and neural recordings

  • Discuss ethical issues surrounding mental health, genetic engineering, animal research​

Source reading materials will include peer-reviewed papers from the primary scientific literature, selections from classic textbooks, and excerpts from novels and biographies of neuroscientists and psychiatrists. Course sessions will comprise lectures, videos, guest speakers, and group discussions. The course will utilize assessments including Writing Assignments, Quizzes, and a Final Presentation.

Meet the Instructor(s)

William Giardino

"I am a neuroscientist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences--my research focus is the neurocircuitry of addiction, stress, and sleep disturbances. I earned a B.S. in Psychology at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University (Portland) before completing postdoctoral training at Stanford and starting my independent laboratory here in January 2021.

"My path to studying the brain was unorthodox. I overlooked science in my early educational years because I was intent on pursuing music and writing. I didn’t encounter the eye-opening worlds of neuroscience and research until I took college Psychology courses. From that point, I transformed my worldview to revolve around understanding biological brain function. But I never stopped pursuing artistic interests outside of academia. These creative outlets remain critical for my individual wellbeing, and they might serve to inspire others to navigate nontraditional career paths."