Joshua A. Burk

College of William & Mary
Department of Psychology
1081 Integrated Science Center
Williamsburg, VA 23187
757-221-3882 (office)
757-221-3896 (FAX)


Burk CV


Academic Positions:

2008-current    Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, College of William and Mary

2002-2008        Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of William & Mary 


Affiliated Academic Positions:

2011-current    Director, Neuroscience Program, College of William & Mary (on research leave 2015-6)

2009-current    Faculty Affiliate, Department of Applied Science, College of William and Mary


NOTE: I am able to accept doctoral students via the Ph.D. program in the Department of Applied Science. Please contact me ( and see the Department of Applied Science website for more information. I am also interested in working with M.A. students who apply to the Department of Psychology’s M.A. program.



May 1999, Ph.D.      Experimental Psychology, University of New Hampshire

May 1999, M.S.T.     College Teaching, University of New Hampshire

June 1996, M.A.       Experimental Psychology, University of New Hampshire

June 1993, B. S.      Psychology (Biological Emphasis), University of California, Davis


Previous Research Experience

2001-2002   Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University

1999-2001   Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, Ohio State University

1994-1999   Research/Teaching Assistant, Department of Psychology, University of New Hampshire

Research Interests
My general area of research interest is the neural basis of attention, learning, and memory. We have several current lines of research related to these topics:


1. Role of the cholinergic system in attention: Considerable research has demonstrated that the basal forebrain cholinergic system is critical for normal attentional processing. Our recent work (McQuail & Burk, 2006) suggests that cholinergic muscarinic receptors, particularly the muscarinic M1 receptor, are important for mediating the effects of the cortical acetylcholine on attention (Burk & Robinson, 2010). Moreover, we have begun to elucidate the attentional demands that are necessary for demonstrating attentional deficits following loss of basal forebrain corticopetal cholinergic neurons (Burk, Lowder, Altemose, 2008). Our current work in this area involves assessing the role of acetylcholine when attentional demands are varied. I am collaborating with Dr. Greg Smith to develop computational models to predict drug-induced changes in performance in attention-demanding tasks. I am also collaborating with Dr. Paul Kieffaber to measure electrical brain activity during attention-demanding task performance.


2. Role of orexins in attention: In collaboration with Dr. Jim Fadel at the University of South Carolina Medical School, we are testing the role of the orexin system in attention. The orexinergic system originates within the hypothalamus and projects to multiple brain regions, including onto basal forebrain corticopetal cholinergic neurons. Our work has explored the role of the orexin projection to the basal forebrain in attentional processing (Fadel & Burk, 2010). We reported that blockade of orexin-1 receptors with SB-334867, either systemically or via direct infusions into the basal forebrain, disrupts attentional performance (Boschen, Fadel, Burk, 2009).


3. Role of the cholinergic system in decision-making. There is evidence that disruptions of attention can result in more impulsive decisions, such as those decisions measured by delay discounting paradigms. These delay discounting paradigms typically involve choosing an immediate, smaller reward compared with a delayed, larger reward. We are in the process of developing a novel task for assessing delay discounting in rats and plan to explore the role of the cholinergic system in delay discounting. Our long-term goals are to more fully explore whether the cholinergic system interacts with other neurotransmitter systems (e.g., dopamine) typically thought to mediate behavior in delay discounting paradigms.


4. Effects of adolescent nicotine exposure on learning and memory. As part of a collaboration with Dr. Robert Barnet and Dr. Pamela Hunt, we are testing the consequences of adolescent nicotine exposure on learning during adulthood. Previous research has suggested that adolescent nicotine exposure can have long-term effects on several neural markers within the hippocampus. However, the behavioral consequences of these brain changes remain unknown. In these experiments, we are typically assessing nicotine-induced changes in performance of hippocampus-dependent tasks. We have recently reported that adolescent nicotine exposure can produce deficits in context conditioning assessed during adulthood (Spaeth et al., 2010).


Selected Recent Publications

· Robinson AM, Mangini DF, Burk JA (2012) Task demands dissociate the effects of muscarinic M1 receptor blockade and PKC inhibition on attentional performance in rats. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 26, 1153-1160.


·  Barnet RC, Hunt PS, Burk JA (2012) Cognitive consequences of adolescent and adult nicotine exposure: utility of animal models. Nicotine Addiction: Prevention, Health Effects and Treatment Options (ed. Di Giovanni G). Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY, pp. 171-202.


· Hirsh AH, Burk JA (2013) Repeated exposure to a visual distracter enhances new discrimination learning and sustained attention task performance in rats. Behavioural Processes, 92, 147-151.


· Zajo KN, Fadel JR, Burk JA (in press) Orexin A induced enhancement of attentional processing in rats: role of basal forebrain neurons. Psychopharmacology.


· Kozikowski CT, Burk JA (in press) Promoting cognitive flexibility under attention-demanding conditions in aged rats. Current Aging Science.



Editorial Activities

          Review Editor for Neuropharmacology; Frontiers in Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Neurology and Psychiatry

Editorial Board Member, European Journal of Pharmacology

Associate Editor, BMC Neuroscience

          Editorial Board Member, World Journal of Pharmacology

          Editorial Board Member, Dataset Papers in Pharmacology



Spring 2016 Psychopharmacology