Indiana University Bloomington

James L. Goodson

James L. Goodson

Ph.D., Cornell University (Psychology), 1998
Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University (Neurobiology & Behavior), 1998-2000

Email address: jlgoodso(at)

Research Interests

Our research focuses on a network of brain regions that regulates social behavior in all vertebrates, although we work mostly with songbirds, since they provide us with opportunities to address questions that are difficult or impossible to address in other taxa. For instance, the estrildid finch family offers us the virtually unique ability to determine how neural and motivational processes have evolved in relation to sociality, as defined by species-typical group sizes, because we can identify species that display massive variation in group sizes while still being closely matched in other aspects of behavior and ecology. We are currently working with five species of estrildid finches, including species that live in territorial pairs, small groups, or large groups that occasionally contain thousands of individuals.

Much of our work on sociality has focused on the nonapeptides vasotocin and mesotocin, which are homologues of the mammalian neuropeptides vasopressin and oxytocin. We have identified anatomical and functional properties of nonapeptide circuits that closely match species differences in behavior, and have further shown that nonapeptide systems can be manipulated to influence an individual's choice of group size, without simultaneously influencing that individual's decision to be social.

Our behavioral work is coupled with comparative neuroanatomical studies, which provide important information about how the social brain has evolved across all vertebrate taxa, and how we can compare our data on brain networks to other taxa, based on the identification of shared features. These anatomical approaches to homology are combined with a variety of functional approaches that allow us to establish the behavioral properties of specific brain regions and neurochemical systems. Our work has demonstrated a surprisingly strong degree of conservation in the social behavior circuits of the basal forebrain and midbrain across the vertebrate classes, suggesting that our work in birds and fish should be informative for a broad range of species, including mammals.

Selected Publications

Goodson, J. L., Kingsbury, M. A. (2011) Nonapeptides and the evolution of social group sizes in birds. Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 5:13.

Kelly, A. M., Kingsbury, M. A., Hoffbuhr, K., Schrock, S. E., Waxman, B., Kabelik, D., Thompson, R. R., Goodson, J. L. (2011) Vasotocin neurons and septal V1a-like receptors potently modulate songbird flocking and responses to novelty. Hormones and Behavior, 60: 12-21.

Kingsbury, M. A., Kelly, A. K., Schrock, S. E., Goodson, J. L. (2011) Mammal-like organization of the avian midbrain central gray and a reappraisal of the intercollicular nucleus. PLoS ONE 6: e20720.

Goodson, J. L., Thompson, R. R. (2010) Nonapeptide mechanisms of social cognition, behavior and species-specific social systems. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 20: 784-794.

Goodson, J.L., Schrock, S.E., Klatt, J.D., Kabelik, D., and Kingsbury, M.A. (2009). Mesotocin and nonapeptide receptors promote songbird flocking behavior. Science 325: 862-866.

Goodson, J.L., Kabelik, D., Kelly, A.M., Rinaldi, J., and Klatt, J.D. (2009). Midbrain dopamine neurons reflect affiliation phenotypes in finches and are tightly coupled to courtship. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 8737-8742.

Goodson, J.L., Evans, A.K., and Wang, Y. (2006). Neuropeptide binding reflects convergent and divergent evolution in species-typical group sizes. Hormones and Behavior, 50: 223-236.

Goodson, J.L., and Wang, Y.A. (2006). Valence-sensitive neurons exhibit divergent functional profiles in gregarious and asocial species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103: 17013-17017.

Goodson, J.L. (2005). The vertebrate social behavior network: Evolutionary themes and variations (Frank Beach Award paper). Hormones and Behavior, 48: 11-22.

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