Spear's research, supported by NIAAA, focuses on two issues: What in brain or environment determine the consequences of alcohol early in life, before and after birth, and how does early experience with alcohol influence later responsiveness to alcohol? They seek to understand (1) what determines alcohol ingestion and reinforcement early in life and how these determinants change as the animal develops from fetus to adulthood, and (2) how early experience with alcohol, prenatal and older, alters this responsiveness. Throughout this analysis they give special attention to the consequences of early learning about the sensory and pharmacological effects of alcohol, and developmental changes in neurochemical systems linked to alcohol ingestion and reinforcement.
A related continuous focus in their laboratory is how the processes of learning and memory change during development from the prenatal period throughout infancy. The central phenomenon in this work has been infantile amnesia, and the theoretical framework for conceptualizing it and related effects emphasizes memory retrieval. Experiments with rats of different ages, from infancy to adulthood, indicate that what is stored in memory changes dramatically with ontogeny and allow the feasibility of interpreting infantile amnesia in terms of an age-specific encoding that results in a failure in later memory retrieval. A related recent focus is in understanding the remarkable strength of memories acquired soon after birth and its relationship to neurochemical and hormonal effects induced by the process of birth.
- PhD, MS, Northwestern University
- BS, Bowling Green State University
- Developmental behavioral neuroscience; characteristics and neurobiological mechanisms of the ontogeny of alcohol ingestion and alcohol reinforcement during early ontogeny; very early learning and the ontogeny of memory
- University Award for Excellence in Research
- Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists
- State University of New York Award for Research and Scholarship
- Senior Research Award from International Society for Developmental Psychology
- Lois B. DeFleur Award for Academic Achievement at Binghamton University