Ph.D., University of Southern California (1993)

Area: Behavioral and Cellular Neuroscience

Member: Institute for Neuroscience


  • Neural systems for emotion, learning, and memory
  • Contextual regulation of memory encoding and retrieval
  • Fear and anxiety

Memories for emotional, particularly fearful, events are vivid, visceral, and enduring. Emotional memories enable us to predict and avoid potential threats, as well as respond to immediate danger. But dysfunction in this system can result in anxiety, panic and post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. Anxiety disorders are the among the most prevalent psychiatric illnesses in the world, affecting nearly one-third of the population. Research in my laboratory seeks to understand the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms underlying the encoding, storage, retrieval, and extinction of aversive memories, and how dysfunction in these circuits and processes contributes to anxiety disorders. We focus on the neurobiology of fear conditioning and extinction in rats and mice. The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex, a triad of interconnected brain areas with essential roles in memory and emotion, are critical for these processes. We use both behavioral and systems neuroscience methods to understand the brain mechanisms of fear and anxiety. These approaches include reversible brain lesions, intracranial pharmacology, electrophysiology, and immunohistochemistry. 

Dr. Maren is a recipient of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology (2001).  He is also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science, Past-President of the Pavlovian Society, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Behavioural Brain Research. He has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1995 and is a recipient of the 2015 McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders award.


  • Neural Substrates of Contextual Memory in Fear Extinction (R01MH065961-12A1), National Institute of Mental Health, $1,868,995 (2015-2020)
  • McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders Award, McKnight Foundation, $300,000 (2015-2018)


Orsini, C. A., Yan, C., & Maren, S. (2013). Ensemble coding of context-dependent fear memory in the amygdala. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7:199, 1-8. (paper)

Maren, S. (2013). Fear of the unexpected: Hippocampus mediates novelty-induced return of extinguished fear in rats. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, epub ahead of print (paper).

Maren, S., Phan, K. L., & Liberzon, I. (2013). The contextual brain:  Implications for fear conditioning, extinction and psychopathology. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14, 417-28. (paper)

Knapska, E., et al. (2012). Functional anatomy of neural circuits regulating fear and extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 17093-8. (paper)

Maren, S. (2011).  Seeking a spotless mind:  Extinction, deconsolidation, and erasure of fear memory. Neuron, 70, 830-45. (paper)

Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, 4235 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4235 • tel: (979) 845-2581
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