|Dr. Tracey J. Shors is a Distinguished Professor in Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience within the Department of Psychology, as well as a member of the Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University. With more than 130 scientific publications, Dr. Shors investigates the neuronal mechanisms through which the brain learns and remembers. Over a decade ago, it was “rediscovered” that the brain continues to produce new neurons throughout life, a process known as neurogenesis. Dr. Shors has associated these new neurons with processes of learning and memory. Many of these new neurons die within weeks but studies from her lab show that learning keeps the new neurons alive — but only if the learning process is effortful and successful. These findings relate to the expression “Use it or lose it.” Dr. Shors also studies sex differences in the brain. She has reported significant sex differences in learning and the effects of stressful life experience on learning. These differences in learning are mediated by different brain circuits and thereby implicate distinctive mechanisms in the male versus female brain. These effects of stress on learning are also sensitive to motherhood and other significant changes across the female lifespan. Most recently, Dr. Shors has developed a novel model to study the effects of sexual aggression on the female brain. This model is referred to as SCAR, which stands for Sexual Conspecific Aggression Response. Her lab has reported significant changes in learning to become a mother which relate to neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
Dr. Shors and an interdisciplinary team of Rutgers scientists have translated these data on neurogenesis and stress into a clinical intervention known as MAP Training, which stands for Mental and Physical Training. This program is an 8 week program which combined mental training, through silent meditation, with physical training, through aerobic exercise (see MAP Training page on this site). It is being provided to students on campus as well as underserved young women in the community who were recently homeless. The MAP training program has positive effects on brain health and cognitive function — decreasing depression and rumination, while increasing synchronized brain activity. MAP Training is also being adapted for women who have suffered sexual violence and trauma in their lifetime. Because this intervention is brain-effective, cost-effective and “portable,” it is a wonderful way to help people from all walks of life learn new ways of thinking about themselves while changing their brains.