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Indiana University Bloomington

Department of Biology

Faculty & Research

Faculty Profile

James Goodson (deceased)

Photo of James Goodson (deceased)
Research Images
Research photo by James Goodson (deceased)

Top: A male violet-eared waxbill (Uraeginthus granatina), one of three territorial finch species being studied in the lab. Bottom: Immunolabeling for neuropeptides and enzymes that delineate numerous brain areas that are important for the regulation of social behavior, including subdivisions of the lateral septum (LS), bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST), and hypothalamus (e.g., anterior, AH; lateral, LH; paraventricular, PVN; and ventromedial, VMH). These areas are strongly conserved in vertebrates, particularly among amniotes. For more information, see our lab webpage.

Professor of Biology

IU Affiliations
Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior

Contact Information

Goodson Lab website
Mechanisms of Behavior

Evolution, Ecology & Behavior

Ph.D., Cornell University, 1998
B.A., University of North Florida, 1992


Frank Beach Award, Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, 2004

Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2012

Research Description

Our research focuses on a network of brain regions that regulates social behavior in all vertebrates, although we work mostly with songbirds, which 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. This is because we can identify species that  display large-scale variation in group sizes while still being closely matched in other aspects of behavior and ecology. We work with numerous 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. Recent findings suggest important roles for other peptides, as well, including vasoactive intestinal peptide and corticotropin-releasing hormone.

Our behavioral work is coupled with comparative neuroanatomical studies, which provide important information about how the social brain has evolved across the various vertebrate classes, 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 vertebrates, ranging from fish to mammals, suggesting that our work in birds should be informative for a broad range of species.

Select Publications

Kelly, A. M., Goodson, J. L. (2013) Functional significance of a phylogenetically widespread sexual dimorphism in vasotocin/vasopressin production. Hormones and Behavior 64, 840-846.

Goodson, J. L., Kelly, A. M., Kingsbury, M. A., Thompson, R. R. (2012) An aggression-specific cell type in the anterior hypothalamus of finches. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 13847-13852.
Goodson, J. L., Kelly, A. M., Kingsbury, M. A. (2012) Evolving nonapeptide mechanisms of gregariousness and social diversity in birds. Hormones and Behavior 61, 239-250.
Goodson, J. L., Wilson, L.C., Schrock, S. E. (2012) To flock or fight: Neurochemical signatures of divergent life histories in sparrows. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (suppl. 1), 10685-10692.
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.    
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., 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., 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., 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.

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