Dr. Lynch is Department Head for Psychology, which is a critical component of undergraduate education, and is also involved in research and graduate programs at UL. She spoke with ultoday.com recently about the department and her research.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a psychoneuroendocrinologist by trade, which means I'm interested in how hormones affect the nervous systems involved with behavior. Basically my research has looked at the relationship of various hormones-- including the sex steroids, and stress related steroids-- in various behaviors, including sexual behavior and learning & memory.

What animals have you worked with?

I've worked in a number of different animal systems, including rodents, macaques, quail, chimpanzees, and humans.

Explain steroids.

Steroids are secreted by glands in several locations in the body. There are sex steroids which include the androgens, including what the layman would call anabolic steroids, and the estrogens.  Then there are steroids that affect blood sugar and storage, and there are those that affect the levels of water and salts in the blood. Steroids have multiple effects on a variety of physiological mechanisms and behaviors

It's always interesting to see how many different mechanisms each steroid can effect simultaneously, so we're not only looking at the traditional mechanisms like growth, energy, strength and sexuality, but also unknown mechanisms, including learning & memory.

For instance, a lot of work recently done out of the Rockefeller Center looked at how how estrogens affect the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for consolidating short term memory into long term memory. It appears that estrogens actually increase the activity of particular communication chemicals in the brain, one being acetylcholine [a nerve relay relay chemical].

Some of my research has looked at the estrogen dependency of acetylcholine in female sexual behavior of rats.

Rats?

It turns out that many things that happen in rats, also happen in humans. Basically we found that estrogen wasn't enough for some sexual behaviors, the acetylcholine was also necessary.

Another line of research looked at anabolic steroid abuse, and the brain mechanisms that are affected. We pumped up rats by giving them the stacked regime that athletes typically use, and looked at changes in the brain. We saw increases in activities of male sexual behavior, but we also saw effects in areas we hadn't suspected, such as learning and memory. In fact, we saw changes in many areas of the brain.  These reflect the changes that one sees in steroid abuse, such as psychosis, extreme aggression, motor problems, addiction, learning and memory deficits, and sexual dysfunction.

Another study looked at stress and stress hormones, and how they affect learning and memory. When we are under a great deal of stress, there is a decrease in the function of brain mechanisms that affect learning and memory. The Rockefeller study reinforced this. While estrogen has a positive effect on learning and memory, cortisol [similar to cortisone], a stress hormone, has a negative effect.

Tell us about the psychology department.

We have 18 faculty who are widely diverse in their research & expertise in applied and experimental areas of psychology. Psychology is very much a science and an art. The experimental psychologists explore behavior, research it, and share that with others, whereas the applied psychologists are in the business of providing therapeutic and other services based on that research.

We have a number of different researchers in the department. We have some people who are looking at autism. Hung-Chu Lin is looking at eye contact and early socialization in autistic children.

We have Claude Cech who does a lot of work in categorization of information and cognitive discourse, and doing collaborations with reseearchers at LITE. He's very much involved in the Cognitive Sciences program. Theresa Wozencraft is working with Acadian Ambulance, looking at stress-related responsiveness in EMTs. Rick Perkins is working with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, begining collaborating with the VA, and is well-established with mental institutions in town. David Greenway is looking at early detectors of addiction and alcoholism. Then we have Connie Veazey who is interested in family violence, and is doing a lot of good work. She's publishing like crazy.  There are a number of others within the department that are doing solid research and researching out into the community.

We're affiliated with the Cecil J. Picard Center, we will be an important player in that. We will have new labs planned for that facility to observe group therapy, and learning environments with very sophisticated monitoring equipment.

Currently we're getting ready to apply for accreditation for our applied graduate program. This will be a new direction for our master's program. In it, students will have the option of doing a research thesis, as well as fulfilling the internship and externship requirements for practitioners.

Finally, we're looking forward to the renovation of Girard Hall, and we're hoping we'll have better teaching and research facilities. Right now, one of our limiting factors is space, and the facilities to do the research we need to do.  These new developments within the department along with the outreach and service within the community done by our faculty will provide the Psychology Department a solid future.