Armin Tavakkoli '20 awarded Senior Fellowship

Armin Tavakkoli ’20 has been awarded a Senior Fellowship for his research with Professor David Bucci and Research Assistant Professor Travis Todd. This Senior Fellowship will allow Armin, a Psychology major, to spend his senior year on his innovative research working to identify the neural mechanisms that are responsible for fear reduction.

Armin is also a recipient of the prestigious Stamps Scholarship, which provides $20,000 for two years to juniors and seniors to pursue an experiential learning plan. The program requires students to have an original research question that they wish to investigate. Through his Stamps scholarship, Armin conducted the studies that ultimately lead him to pursue the Senior Fellowship. The scholarship also allowed Armin to spend his off-term at University of Vermont, working in the laboratory Dr. Mark Bouton, a distinguished experimental psychologist whose discoveries inform much of our current understanding of the role of context in learning and memory.

Armin attributes his interest in psychology and neuroscience to the Psychology 22 (Learning) course taught by Professor Todd, who initially introduced Armin to the field. He describes his research project in his Stamps Scholarship application:

As a Stamps Scholar, I am conducting a series of experiments that employ cutting-edge neuroscience methods to investigate the development and reduction of fear. It is known that severe traumatic experiences, including but not limited to sexual abuse and battle exposure, result in development of PTSD. It is estimated that about 5.2 million U.S adults suffer from PTSD during the course of a given year. Patients with PTSD are often unable to interpret their surroundings to distinguish between “safe” and “threatening” stimuli, and thus experience episodes of intense disabling fear following exposure to a safe stimulus. Previous research has shown a significantly diminished level of retrosplenial cortex (RSC) activity in patients with PTSD, but no studies to date have examined the causal nature of this linkage, primarily due to lack of an established methodology to do so. By employing several state-of-the-art technologies including fiber photometry and Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs), I am investigating the role of RSC in fear learning, hoping to further our understanding of the neural mechanisms related to PTSD.