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Ryan Ward2

Tel 64 3 479 5660

Dr Ryan Ward’s general research interests are focused on two broad areas: behavioural neuroscience, and motivations, experiences, and consequences of human drug taking. He uses sophisticated behaviour analysis combined with manipulation and recording of neural circuits to uncover mechanisms underlying motivation, cognition, and their interaction. In particular, his interest is in how environmental cues that signal rewards engage cognitive and motivational processes and how these processes may be compromised in psychiatric disease. He is also interested in conceptualising and developing animal models of subjective internal states, such as psychosis.

Ryan’s other research interest is why people choose to take drugs and how this impacts them. His group conducts nation-wide surveys and focus groups to understand people’s motivations for consuming drugs, their experiences while using, any harms or consequences (positive or negative) associated with their use, and knowledge of, and strategies towards, harm reduction. Ongoing and past projects include studies on MDMA, psychedelics, benzodiazepines, cannabis, and nitrous oxide.

Ryan received a PhD from Utah State University in 2008. After completing postdoctoral research fellowships in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York City, he joined the University of Otago's Department of Psychology in 2014. He has successfully supervised over 30 postgraduate students.


  • PSYC 330 Drugs, Behaviour, Addiction, and Policy
  • PSYC 210 Principles of Psychological Research

Research Interests

  • Behavioural neuroscience
  • Motivation, cognition, and their interaction
  • Animal models of psychiatric disease
  • Basic learning processes
  • Motivations, experiences, and consequences of human drug taking
  • Knowledge and employment of harm-reduction strategies by drug users

Find out more about Dr Ward's research interests


Tashakori-Sabzevar, F., Munn, R. G. K., Bilkey, D. K., & Ward, R. D. (2024). Basal forebrain and prelimbic cortex connectivity is related to behavioral response in an attention task. iScience, 27, 109266. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2024.109266 Journal - Research Article

Whelan, J., Noller, G., & Ward, R. D. (2024). Harm reduction behaviours and harm experiences of people who use 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) in Aotearoa New Zealand. Harm Reduction Journal, 21, 67. doi: 10.1186/s12954-024-00979-y Journal - Research Article

Whelan, J., Noller, G. E., & Ward, R. D. (2024). Rolling through TikTok: An analysis of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-related content. Drug & Alcohol Review, 43, 36-44. doi: 10.1111/dar.13640 Journal - Research Article

Deane, A. R., Jing, Y., Shoorangiz, R., Liu, P., & Ward, R. D. (2023). Cognitive and arginine metabolic correlates of temporal dysfunction in the MIA rat model of schizophrenia risk. Behavioral Neuroscience, 137(1), 67-77. doi: 10.1037/bne0000540 Journal - Research Article

Deane, A. R., & Ward, R. D. (2022). The instrumental role of operant paradigms in translational psychiatric research: Insights from a maternal immune activation model of schizophrenia risk. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 117, 560-575. doi: 10.1002/jeab.753 Journal - Research Other

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