Dr. Flores’ research revolves around the idea that every experience has the potential to change the brain, and thereby change behavior – specifically, she questions the behavioral and neural impact of incidental experience using a rodent model of taste learning.
Humans and animals alike are pretty good at deeming foods as “delicious” or “disgusting” thanks to the strong relationship between taste and survival. However, our diverse experiences with foods are far more complex than these two descriptors; most of our experiences fall somewhere in between and without consequence. What we might not often consider is how our individual experiences with tastes – even with those that are unremarkable or incidental (“meh”) – influence how we make future decisions and associations about novel tastes.
Dr. Flores received a Pre-doctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA) in 2017 to investigate this question as part of her dissertation research. This work, supervised by Dr. Donald B. Katz at Brandeis University, found that animals who received at least 2 sessions of incidental experience with salty and sour tastes learned associations regarding a novel sweet taste better than animals lacking previous taste experience. Follow up studies replicated these findings and were the first to show that primary taste cortex in the rodent brain plays a role in incidental taste experience processing and associative learning following this experience.
This interdisciplinary research in Psychology and Neuroscience can help to form bridges between fields by developing animal learning models that are more representative of the diverse human experience with food and taste.
Now at Furman, Dr. Flores continues to investigate how incidental taste experience impacts chemosensory learning, and the neurobiological underpinnings thereof, using electrophysiology, histology and behavioral assays in a rodent model of learning. Much of her research has involved dedicated work from several undergraduate assistants who have presented their findings at various conferences and events -- she is always open to talk to students interested in joining her lab and research!