Assistant Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience
Dr. Flores’ interest in Psychology and Neuroscience began as an undergraduate at UC San Diego. Although she started college with a different major, she ultimately decided to switch to Psychology after taking and enjoying a few classes in Neuroscience and Behavior and participating in sensory systems research. After earning her B.S., she worked as a Research Assistant at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA where she continued to explore different areas of Psychology. With guidance from her mentors, she decided to attend graduate school at Brandeis University where she earned a M.S. in Neuroscience and a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her research blends her interest in Psychology and Neuroscience and focuses on the impact of experience on taste processing using rodent models of learning. Dr. Flores has supervised several undergraduate research projects and is always willing to chat about her research with any interested students!
Dr. Flores is equally passionate about teaching and mentoring and has served as a STEM Posse Foundation Mentor and Adjunct Instructor. She has taught Learning & Behavior at Brandeis University and Experimental Design at Lasell College. Her experiences led her to find that liberal arts institutions, like Furman, that provide students with a distinctive opportunity for scientific growth in an environment that values creativity, self-discovery and personal attention, were a good fit for her goals. She is beyond excited to work with students at Furman in campus activities, the lab, and classroom. Dr. Flores will teach Learning, Animal Behavior, and courses in Sensation and Perception beginning in the Fall of 2019.
During her spare time Dr. Flores enjoys too much coffee, trying new foods, looking at cute animals (including her 2 cats), traveling and spending time outdoors with her husband Matt.
- Ph.D., Brandeis University
- M.S., Brandeis University
- B.S., UC San Diego
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!
- Flores VL, Parmet T +, Mukherjee N, Nelson S, Katz DB & Levitan D. (2018). The role of the gustatory cortex in incidental experience-evoked enhancement of later taste learning. Learning & Memory. 25(11):587-600 PMID: 30322892. (+ Undergraduate)
- Flores VL, Moran A, Bernstein M +, Katz DB (2016). Preexposure to salty and sour taste enhances conditioned taste aversion to novel sucrose. Learning & Memory. 23(5):221-8 PMID: 27084929. (+ Undergraduate)