Ruth Melanie Colwill Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

Ruth M. Colwill received her PhD from the University of Cambridge and her BA from the University of York. Her research interests include animal learning and behavior, early adverse experiences on cognitive development, canine communication systems and aggressive behavior.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

Gonzalez, S.T., Welch, E.S., Colwill, R.M., (2013). Pavlovian contextual and instrumental biconditional discrimination learning in mice.  Behav. Brain Research, 256:398-404. NIHMS 524374.

O’Neale, A., Ellis, J., Creton, R., Colwill, R.M. (2014). Single stimulus learning in zebrafish larvae. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 108:145-54. Epub 2013 Sep 6. NIHMS 526724.

Ramirez, J. J., Monti, P. M., & Colwill, R. M. (2014). Alcohol cue exposure effects on craving and attentional bias among underage college student drinkers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors,

Clift D, Richendrfer H, Thorn RJ, Colwill RM, Creton R. High-throughput analysis of behavior in zebrafish larvae: effects of feeding. Zebrafish. 2014;11:455-61.

Clift DE, Thorn RJ, Passarelli EA, Kapoor M, LoPiccolo MK, Richendrfer HA, Colwill RM, Creton R (2015). Effects of embryonic cyclosporine exposures on brain development and behavior.  Behavioural Brain Research, accepted for publication.

Colwill R.M., Creton R. (2011). Imaging escape and avoidance behavior in zebrafish larvae.  Reviews in the Neurosciences 22, 63-73.   PMCID # 3092434.

Colwill, R.M., Creton, R. (2011). Locomotor behaviors in zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae.  Behavioural Processes, 86, 222-229.  PMCID # 3063417.

Pelkowski S.D., Kapoor M., Richendrfer H.A., Wang X., Colwill R.M., Creton R. (2011).  A novel high-throughput imaging system for automated analyses of avoidance behavior in zebrafish larvae.  Behav. Brain Res, 223:135-144.   NIHMSID # 293019.

Richendrfer, H., Pelkowski, S.D., Colwill, R.M., Creton, R. (2011). On the edge: pharmacological evidence for anxiety-related behavior in zebrafish larvae. Behavioral Brain Research (In press).

Ramirez, J. J. & Colwill, R. M. (2012).  Pavlovian biconditional discrimination learning in the C57BL/6J mouse. Behavioural Processes, Available online March 22, 2012.  doi:  101016/j.beproc.2012.02.017

Richendrfer, H., Pelkowski, S.D., Colwill, R.M., Creton, R. epub 2012. Developmental sub-chronic exposure to chlorpyrifos reduces anxiety-related behavior in zebrafish larvae.  Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

Colwill, R. M. (2008). Theory on classical conditioning (Essay). Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Springer-Verlag.

Colwill, R. M. (2008). Acquisition; blocking; overshadowing; reinforcement; Rescorla-Wagner model; Mackintosh model; extinction; conditioned inhibition (glossary entries). Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Springer-Verlag.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Edward C. Tolman. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Clark L. Hull. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Skinner box. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Systematic Desensitization. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Implosion. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2009). Time out. Salem Health: Psychology and Mental Health. Salem Press.

Colwill R.M., Creton R. (2010).  Automated imaging of avoidance behavior in larval zebrafish.  (Ch. 3, pp. 35-48). Humana Press /  Springer Protocols:   Zebrafish Neurobehavioral Protocols  Series:  Neuromethods, Vol. 51, 1st Edition. Kalueff, Allan V.; Cachat, Jonathan M. (Eds.). ISBN: 978-1-60761-952-9.  Peer-reviewed book chapter.

Colwill, R.M. (2012). Craving. Salem Health: Addictions and Substance Abuse. Salem Press.

Colwill, R.M. (2012). Relapse. Salem Health: Addictions and Substance Abuse. Salem Press.

Colwill R.M., Creton R. (2012).  Chapter 7. Automated imaging of visual recognition memory in larval zebrafish. In Kalueff AV and Stewart AM (Eds.) Zebrafish Protocols for Neurobehavioral Research, Humana Press. ISBN: 978-1-61779-596-1.Peer-reviewed book chapter.

Richendrfer, H., Creton, R., Colwill, R.M. (2014). The embryonic zebrafish as a model system to study the effects of environmental toxicants on behavior.  In: Zebrafish: topics in reproduction and development. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Colwill, R. M. (2007). Effect of US Identity on Elimination and Recovery of Autoshaped Responding with Explicitly Unpaired and Degraded Contingency Extinction Procedures. Behavioural Processes, 74(1), 1-12.

Colwill, R. M. (2007). Effect of the passage of time on the contribution of initial response-outcome associations to instrumental performance. Behavioural Processes, (In press).

Colwill, R. M. (2006). Passage of time leaves response-outcome associations intact. Behavioural Processes, 72(1), 91-99.

Colwill, R. M., Raymond, M. P., Ferreira, L., & Escudero, H. (2005). Visual discrimination learning in the zebrafish, Danio rerio. Behavioural Processes, 70, 19-31.

Fetsko, L. A., Stebbins, H., Gallagher, K. K., & Colwill, R. M. (2005). Acquisition and extinction of facilitation in the C57Bl/6J mouse. Learning & Behavior, 33(4), 479-500.

Colwill, R. M. & Triola, S. M. (2002). Instrumental responding remains under the control of the consequent outcome after extended training. Behavioural Processes, 57, 51-64.

Colwill, R. M. (2001). The effect of noncontingent outcomes on extinction of the response-outcome association. Animal Learning & Behavior, 29, 153-164.

Colwill, R. M., Goodrum, K., & Martin, A. (1997). Pavlovian appetitive discriminative conditioning in aplysia californica. Animal Learning and Behavior, 25, 268-276.

Colwill, R. M. (1996). Detecting associations in Pavlovian conditioning and instrumental learning in vertebrates and in invertebrates. In C. F. Moss & S. J. Shettleworth (Eds.), Neuroethological studies of cognitive and perceptual processes (pp.31-62). Westview Press.

Colwill, R. M., & Delamater, B. D. (1995). An associative analysis of instrumental biconditional discrimination learning. Animal Learning and Behavior, 23, 218-233.

Colwill, R. M. (1994). Associative representations of instrumental contingencies. In D. L. Medin (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, (pp. 1-72). New York: Academic Press.

Colwill, R. M. (1993). Signaling the omission of a response-contingent outcome reduces discriminative control. Animal Learning and Behavior, 21, 337-345.

Colwill, R. M. (1991). Negative discriminative stimuli provide information about the identity of omitted response contingent outcomes. Animal Learning and Behavior, 19, 326-336.

Colwill, R. M., & Rescorla, R. A. (1990). Evidence for the hierarchical structure of instrumental learning. Animal Learning and Behavior, 18, 71 82.

Colwill, R. M., & Rescorla, R. A. (1988). Associations between the discriminative stimulus and the reinforcer in instrumental learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 14, 155 164.

Colwill, R. M., Absher, R. A., & Roberts, M. L. (1988). Context US learning in Aplysia californica. Journal of Neuroscience, 8, 4434 4439.

Colwill, R. M. (1985). Effects of associatively significant events on learning and memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 37B, 101 119.

Colwill, R. M., & Rescorla, R. A. (1985). Post conditioning devaluation of a reinforcer affects instrumental responding. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 11, 120 132.

research overview

My research uses primarily behavioral methods to examine how information is represented by the animal mind. Topics include animal learning and behavior, early adverse experiences on cognitive development, canine communication systems and aggressive behavior, and environmental enrichment.

research statement

My research uses primarily behavioral methods to examine how information is represented by the animal mind. Current areas of research are:

Instrumental learning. One of the most pervasive principles of modern experimental psychology is that behavior is governed by its consequences. One goal of my research has been to determine the extent of an organism's knowledge of the consequences of its acts and the circumstances giving rise to that knowledge. In previous work, I have documented that when multiple outcomes are uniquely correlated with different responses, rats learn which response produces which outcome. Current research is addressing the role of discriminative stimuli in determining instrumental performance and recovery from extinction (relapse).

Pavlovian conditioning. The ability to detect relations between events endows an organism with the knowledge to predict the occurrence of future events. Previous work with pigeons examined the effect of degrading the contingency between a signal and its outcome by additional presentations of either that same outcome or related outcomes during acquisition and extinction. Recent work with mice has focused on their ability to represent higher-order relational information where one event modulates the connection between two other events. We are currently modeling executive functions in a mouse model so that we can examine the effects of prenatal exposure to marijuana on those functions.

Effects of early experience on cognitive development. My lab uses the larval zebrafish to examine the effects of embryonic exposure to PCBs on neurobehavioral development. We have developed a procedure for studying visual learning and memory in larvae as young as 5 days post-fertilization and are using this task to test the effects of PCB exposure on the developing brain. We are also examining the anxiety-inducing effects of embryonic PCB exposure using our startle assay.

Canid communication. Evidence suggests that animal vocalizations can be used to transmit information about the identity of the sender, information about the motivational or behavioral intent of the sender, and referential information. We have been studying the acoustic structure of canine vocalizations for evidence that pack members produce distinctive sounds that can be used for individual recognition. Other topics include using playback procedures to investigate individual recognition by conspecifics and the deployment of a dynamic intruder classification system.

Dog bite prevention. Dog bites are a prevalent source of injury in the US population. It has been estimated that as many as 4.7 million individuals receive dog bites each year and that almost 800,000 of these individuals require medical attention for their bites Children under the age of 10 years are at greater risk for dog bite injuries compared to the adult population. Children are most likely to be bitten by a familiar dog that is their own dog, a dog owned by a relative, or a friend's family dog. I have also developed dog bite prevention programs for children in grades 1 through 4 and adults including letter carriers, social workers, health care professionals, animal control officers and animal shelter volunteers. Information about these programs is available on request.

 

funded research

Principal Investigator (Colwill). (co-PI: J. Michael Walker). A murine model of marijuana-induced executive dysfunction. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (April 2001 – March 2005). $471,000

Principal Investigator (Colwill). Canine behavior project: Intervention and education. Virginia B. Butler grant, RI Foundation. (July 2004 – June 2005). $8,000

Principal Investigator. (Colwill). Canine behavior project: Intervention and education. Virginia B. Butler grant, RI Foundation. (August 2003 – July 2004). $18,000

Principal organizer (Colwill). (co-organizers Professor David Konstan, Classics and Professor John Emigh, Theater, Speech & Dance). The art and science of affective behavior: An interdisciplinary approach to the study of emotion. Wayland Collegium, (2003-2004).

Principal Investigator. (Colwill). Learning and Memory in Bullfrog Tadpoles. Rhode Island Space Foundation Grant. (2000-2001).

Principal Investigator. (Colwill). Associative structures in instrumental learning. National Science Foundation, IBN 9407326 (1994-1997).

Principal Investigator. (Colwill). Collaborative Research: Associations in Instrumental Learning. National Science Foundation IBN 8915342, (1989 1994).

Principal Investigator. (Colwill). Associative Learning in Aplysia californica, National Science Foundation BNS 8922551, (1990 1993).

Principal Investigator (Colwill). Associative Mechanisms in Pavlovian and Instrumental Learning. Biomedical Research Support Grant, Brown University, (1989 1990).

Principal Investigator (Colwill). Dynamics of stimulus outcome learning in rats and humans. Biomedical Research Support Grant, Brown University, (1989 1990).