Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

M. Nicole Kunkel


B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience, St. Edward's University

M. Nicole Kunkel

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Interests


rat models, hormones and behavior, reward, sexual development and behavior, mate choice / preference, women's sexual health and wellness, female reproductive health, health equity, Culture of Health, health policy, accessible science, sex workers' occupational health

Biography


As an undergraduate, I was introduced to rat models in behavioral neuroscience. My first research experiences centered around adolescent stimulant exposure and its effects on female sexual behavior during sexual development and in adulthood. I also built an elevated plus maze to look at effects on anxiety.

 

As a graduate student, I continue to use animal models and think about how my science can help improve the sexual wellness of women. I introduced Tracey Shors's model of sexual assault to the Gore lab, where I am now studying how prenatal endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure and sexual aggression affect adolescent female rats. I use immunohistochemistry techniques to label activated brain regions at the time of the assault and circulating stress hormone levels as an indicator of stress. I also use a mate choice test to examine learned aversion to aggressors.

 

I consider this work a piece of an important conversation that must be had around sexual violence towards women. Victim-survivors unfortunately face difficulties when they approach the criminal justice system that can lead to further harm. Too often cases are forgotten, rape kits left untested. When cases do move forward in the criminal justice system, victim-survivors lose control over their narrative when prosecutors tell their story for them, question their experiences, and counter their experiences. I hope to produce accessible, scientific information to victim-survivors who are in need of control and understanding of their own experiences in their journey towards healing.

 

In fall 2018, I was accepted into the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Research Scholars program. This fellowship training teaches PhD students to engage with government, non-profit, and private sectors to promote health equity, a culture of health, and evidence-based policy. In the 2019 Summer Institute, I wrote policy memos and gave testimony on the need for Texas to develop accessible, trauma-informed, restorative justice approaches to sexual assault. I believe these evidence-based policies are especially important to promoting the health and wellness of marginalized populations, such as exotic dancers, from an occupational health perspective.

 

Photograph: (c) Flynn Larsen 2019. Photo Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Curriculum Vitae


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  • Department of Psychology

    The University of Texas at Austin
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    108 E. Dean Keeton Stop A8000
    Austin, TX 78712-1043
    512-471-1157