Jeff Dyche named CHBS Madison Scholar


By: Laura Mack '16
Creative Services Student Writer
PHOTO: Madison Scholar presentation

“This is a series of non-sequiturs, because my research is pretty scattered,” said Jeff Dyche, acknowledging the title slide of his presentation, which read “Submarines, rodent sleep, and drugs: Psychological Sciences projects.” Dyche, a professor in the psychology department, was recognized as the Madison Scholar for the College of Health and Behavioral Studies in November, an award that each college distributes to a professor who is an exemplary instructor and accomplished researcher. Each Madison Scholar delivers a lecture on their work to the university. As a part of his lecture, Dyche shared the breadth and depth of his psychological research and his work with students on their own projects. 

Before arriving at James Madison University, Dyche had an unconventional start in his psychology career doing research advocacy and development with the U.S. Navy. “In graduate school I didn’t do anything with the military – I was studying the effects of magnetic fields on rats,” said Dyche. “But I built these giant chambers that generated a strong magnetic field, and I put rats in them. I was curious to see how that impacted their physiology and their sleep.” During his presentation, Navy representatives at the conference likened the structure of the chambers that contained the rats to a smaller model of a submarine.

Dyche was recruited by the Navy to study the sleeping patterns of submariners on four different nuclear submarines. People working on the submarine go long periods of time without seeing any sunlight, affecting their sense of time during the day. “Without the cues of the day and night on the submarine, their circadian rhythms don’t sync up to 24 hours. Over a period of several weeks, circadian rhythms are completely flip flopped,” Dyche explained. “If it’s 1 p.m. in the afternoon on the boat, your internal clock might think it’s 1 a.m. at night.”

Consequently, submariners were more tired during peak works hours, which impacted their performance and morale. Dyche worked to develop a 24-hour work shift schedule that helped submariners sync up to the day of the boat. Experiencing positive changes to their sleep and performance, the naval community has continued to use this schedule over the past few years.

Moving into his work with students, Dyche admitted that his real interests lie in analyzing the more basic processes of behavior. He said, “I’m still more interested in the biological mechanisms that underlie sleep deprivation. With a rodent model, you can look at their brains and see how they’re impacted. I can’t do that with a submariner.” Dyche and his students have demonstrated that sleep deprivation in a rat model might increase activity in reward centers in the brain. “That’s interesting because it could mean that sleep deprivation is slightly intrinsically reinforcing, which is going to make college students, who are typically sleep deprived, continue to deprive themselves of sleep and take stimulants to compensate.”

Deviating from his sleep research, Dyche was approached by students who wanted to study the potential relationship between prolonged cocaine usage and levels of impulsivity. “It’s a very consistent finding that people using cocaine are impulsive. But what isn’t known is if they were that way before the cocaine, or if doing cocaine for a long period of time changed their neurochemistry to make them impulsive even years after they had quit,”  Dyche theorized. Students conducted their experiments twice on rats, finding that long-term cocaine usage did not cause a significant change in subsequent levels of impulsivity.

He credits his students for the wide range of psychological research he has been able to take on, crediting their curiosity and innovation. “I like the class model I use because it’s completely student-generated. I might come in and throw some ideas to help guide them, but the ideas mostly come from the students,” said Dyche. “This whole cocaine study – I would have never thought of that. It was brought up by a student, so I learned from them.”

Madison Scholars reflect a passion for their work, which greatly impacts not only the rigorous level of research James Madison University produces, but also the inspiration and empowerment felt by students.  “One of the basic ideas of science is to understand something that wasn’t known before. That might seem trite, but ultimately science is little baby steps. We’re just trying to contribute to those baby steps,” said Dyche. “That’s the function of my lab. Students have to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes projects teeter and fall apart, but that’s how science works. Eventually, we’ve really done something amazing, after all those tiny steps.” 

Published: Monday, January 8, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 9, 2018

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