Norman Spear


Professor Emeritus

Distinguished Professor of Psychology



Ph.D., Northwestern University
Areas: Behavioral Neuroscience; Cognitive Psychology
Phone: 607-777-2663
Office: Science IV, Room 261

Curriculum vitae (.pdf, 484kb)

Research Societies:

Past President of: International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, Midwestern Psychological Association, Eastern Psychological Association, and Behavioral Neuroscience Division (6) of American Psychological Association; Past Governing Board: Psychonomics, Board of Scientific Affairs; American Psychological Association.


Past co-Editor (American Journal of Psychology) and Associate Editor (Animal Learning and Behavior, Learning and Motivation, Hormones and Behavior); Editorial boards (several over the years; currently Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, American Journal of Psychology, Review of General Psychology.)

Federal Grant Review Committees:

Multi-year terms as permanent member of NIDA, NIMH (Chair) and NSF (twice); ad-hoc member for various federal agencies, 1-3 times each year.

Recent Awards:

Our laboratory has had continuous federal funding for nearly 50 years, beginning at Rutgers in 1963. Several graduate students in the laboratory have had predoctoral NIH fellowships during that time and several postdoctoral associates have had postdoctoral fellowships or research grants of their own. We currently have three NIH grants, including two 5-year RO1 grants and one RO1 equivalent as part of an NIAAA Center based on faculty from Binghamton University and Upstate Medical School.  

Research Interests:

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.

Research Description:

Our 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? We 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 we 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 our 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.

Philosophy of Graduate Training:

Like many multidisciplinary laboratories, we take a team-based approach to both our research and graduate training. My primary research collaborator, Dr. Juan Carlos Molina, along with our two major senior collaborators, Dr. Elena Varlinskaya and Dr. Andrey Kozlov, plus three postdoctoral research associates, Dr. Michael Nizhnikov, Dr. Carlos Arias and Dr. Ricardo Pautassi, work as a team to provide graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to develop ideas for experiments, conceptual frameworks and instrumentation and aid them in testing specific hypotheses as they see fit. The aim is to provide a congenial environment, stimulating but not oppressive, in which to study and engage in cutting-edge publishable research from the moment students arrive in the lab. The goal we emphasize is to ensure insofar as possible that students obtain the credentials (education, publications and papers presented) needed for the type of employment or further education they seek when they receive their degrees. Graduates of our lab have benefited from this in acquiring positions in industry, particularly pharmaceutical corporations, and in academia as professors, with several going on to become administrators as chairs or deans or vice-presidents and one as president of a major university.

All graduate students, postdocs and research collaborators during the past 10 years have been supported by federal grants or fellowships from the U.S. or other countries.

Selected Publications:

For further background and publications, click on Dr. Spear's curriculum vitae.

Nizhnikov, M.E., Pautassi, R.M., Carter, J.M., Landin, J.D., Varlinskaya, E.I., Bordner, K.A., Werner, D.F., & Spear, N.E. (2014). Brief prenatal ethanol exposure alters behavioral sensitivity to the kappa opioid receptor agonist (U62,066E) and antagonist (Nor-BNI) and reduces kappa opioid receptor expression. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 38(6),1630-1638.

Spear, N.E. & Molina, J.C. (2005). Fetal or infantile exposure to ethanol promotes ethanol ingestion in adolescence and adulthood: A theoretical review. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 29(6), 909-929.

Spear, N.E. & Riccio, D.C. (1994). Memory: Phenomena and Principles. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Spear, N.E., Isaacson, R.L. (1982). The problem of expression. In R.L. Isaacson & N.E. Spear (Eds.), The Expression of Knowledge. New York: Plenum Press, 1-32.

Spear, N.E. (1978). Processing Memories: Forgetting and Retention. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Last Updated: 10/20/14