Dr Kathryn Baker
Senior Lecturer

Dr Kathryn Baker

  • PhD in Psychology, Monash University, 2011
  • Bachelor of Behavioural Neuroscience (Hons), Monash University, 2005
School of Psychology

My research is in developmental psychology and behavioural neuroscience, with a focus on emotional memories across adolescent development. 

My body of work primarily examines the behavioural, pharmacological, and neural mechanisms of fear extinction in adolescence, a learning process that reduces fear. It aims to understand the psychological and neural processes underpinning persistent fear in adolescence using animal models. My goal is to contribute to knowledge on approaches to reduce distressing memories to ultimately help improve treatments for psychological disorders such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and particularly those emerging in adolescence.

School of Psychology University of New South Wales Sydney NSW 2052 Mathews Building Room 507
  • Journal articles | 2023
    2023, 'Real-World Intake of Dietary Sugars Is Associated with Reduced Cortisol Reactivity Following an Acute Physiological Stressor', Nutrients, 15, http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu15010209
    Journal articles | 2022
    2022, 'Pharmacological Enhancement of Extinction Retention in Non-stressed Adolescent Rats but Not Those Exposed to Chronic Corticosterone', Frontiers in Neuroscience, 16, pp. 822709, http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2022.822709
    Journal articles | 2021
    2021, 'Does maternal separation accelerate maturation of perineuronal nets and parvalbumin-containing inhibitory interneurons in male and female rats?', Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 47, pp. 100905 - 100905, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2020.100905
    Journal articles | 2021
    2021, 'Fear extinction learning and retention during adolescence in rats and mice: A systematic review', Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 131, pp. 1264 - 1274, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.10.044
    Journal articles | 2020
    2020, 'Deficits in opioid receptor-mediated prediction error contribute to impaired fear extinction during adolescence', Behaviour Research and Therapy, 133, pp. 103713 - 103713, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2020.103713
    Journal articles | 2020
    2020, 'Developmental differences in the effects of CB1/2R agonist WIN55212-2 on extinction of learned fear', Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 99, pp. 109834, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2019.109834
    Journal articles | 2020
    2020, 'Esketamine as a treatment for paediatric depression: questions of safety and efficacy', The Lancet Psychiatry, 7, pp. 827 - 829, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30521-8
    Journal articles | 2019
    King G; Baker KD; Bisby MA; Chan D; Cowan CS M; Stylianakis AA; Zimmermann KS; Richardson R, 2019, 'A precision medicine approach to pharmacological adjuncts to extinction: a call to broaden research', Psychopharmacology, 236, pp. 143 - 161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-4999-0
    Journal articles | 2019
    2019, 'Maturational changes in prefrontal and amygdala circuits in adolescence: implications for understanding fear inhibition during a vulnerable period of development', Brain Sciences, 9, http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9030065
    Journal articles | 2019
    2019, 'Timing is everything: Developmental differences in the effect of chronic corticosterone exposure on extinction retention', Behavioral Neuroscience, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bne0000326
    Journal articles | 2018
    Baker KD; McNally GP; Richardson R, 2018, 'D-Cycloserine facilitates fear extinction in adolescent rats and differentially affects medial and lateral prefrontal cortex activation', Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 86, pp. 262 - 269, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.06.007
    Journal articles | 2018
    Bisby MA; Baker KD; Richardson R, 2018, 'Elucidating the mechanisms of fear extinction in developing animals: A special case of NMDA receptor-independent extinction in adolescent rats', Learning and Memory, 25, pp. 158 - 164, http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/lm.047209.117
    Journal articles | 2018
    Stylianakis AA; Harmon-Jones SK; Richardson R; Baker KD, 2018, 'Differences in the persistence of spatial memory deficits induced by a chronic stressor in adolescents compared to juveniles', Developmental Psychobiology, 60, pp. 805 - 813, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/dev.21750
    Journal articles | 2017
    Baker KD; Gray AR; Richardson R, 2017, 'The development of perineuronal nets around parvalbumin GABAergic neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala of rats', Behavioral Neuroscience, 131, pp. 289 - 303, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bne0000203
    Journal articles | 2017
    Baker KD; Loughman A; Spencer SJ; Reichelt AC, 2017, 'The impact of obesity and hypercaloric diet consumption on anxiety and emotional behavior across the lifespan', Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 83, pp. 173 - 182, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.10.014
    Journal articles | 2017
    Baker KD; Richardson R, 2017, 'Pharmacological evidence that a failure to recruit NMDA receptors contributes to impaired fear extinction retention in adolescent rats', Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 143, pp. 18 - 26, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2016.10.014
    Journal articles | 2016
    Baker KD; Bisby MA; Richardson R, 2016, 'Impaired fear extinction in adolescent rodents: Behavioural and neural analyses', Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 70, pp. 59 - 73, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.05.019
    Journal articles | 2016
    Baker KD; Reichelt AC, 2016, 'Impaired fear extinction retention and increased anxiety-like behaviours induced by limited daily access to a high-fat/high-sugar diet in male rats: Implications for diet-induced prefrontal cortex dysregulation', Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 136, pp. 127 - 138, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2016.10.002
    Journal articles | 2015
    Chan D; Baker KD; Richardson R, 2015, 'Relearning a context-shock association after forgetting is an NMDAr-independent process', Physiology and Behavior, 148, pp. 29 - 35, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.11.004
    Journal articles | 2015
    2015, 'Forming competing fear learning and extinction memories in adolescence makes fear difficult to inhibit', Learning and Memory, 22, pp. 537 - 543, http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/lm.039487
    Journal articles | 2015
    2015, 'The Interaction of REM Sleep with Safety Learning in Humans: Could a Good Night's Sleep Alter a Traumatic Experience?', The Journal of Neuroscience, 35, pp. 1337 - 1339, http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4370-14.2015
    Journal articles | 2014
    2014, 'A window of vulnerability: Impaired fear extinction in adolescence', Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 113, pp. 90 - 100, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2013.10.009
    Journal articles | 2013
    Baker KD; Edwards TM; Rickard NS, 2013, 'The role of intracellular calcium stores in synaptic plasticity and memory consolidation', Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 37, pp. 1211 - 1239, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.011
    Journal articles | 2013
    Baker KD; McNally GP; Richardson R, 2013, 'Memory retrieval before or after extinction reduces recovery of fear in adolescent rats', Learning and Memory, 20, pp. 467 - 473, http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/lm.031989.113
    Journal articles | 2012
    Baker KB; McNally GP; Richardson RL, 2012, 'D-cycloserine does not facilitate fear extinction by reducing conditioned stimulus processing or promoting conditioned inhibition to contextual cues', Learning and Memory, 19, pp. 461 - 469, http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/lm.026674.112
    Journal articles | 2011
    Baker KD; Edwards TM; Rickard NS, 2011, 'Blocking SK channels impairs long-term memory formation in young chicks', Behavioural Brain Research, 216, pp. 458 - 462, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2010.07.032
    Journal articles | 2011
    Baker KD; Edwards TM; Rickard NS, 2011, 'Pharmacobehavioural Evidence for Nitric Oxide and Noradrenaline Interactions With Ryanodine Receptors During Memory Formation in the Young Chick', Behavioral Neuroscience, 125, pp. 175 - 183, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0022537
    Journal articles | 2010
    Baker KD; Edwards TM; Rickard NS, 2010, 'A ryanodine receptor agonist promotes the consolidation of long-term memory in young chicks', Behavioural Brain Research, 206, pp. 143 - 146, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2009.08.026
    Journal articles | 2008
    Baker KD; Edwards TM; Rickard NS, 2008, 'Inhibition of mGluR1 and IP3Rs impairs long-term memory formation in young chicks', Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 90, pp. 269 - 274, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2008.04.004
    Journal articles | 2007
    Baker KD; Edwards TM, 2007, 'd-Lactate inhibition of memory in a single trial discrimination avoidance task in the young chick', Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 88, pp. 269 - 276, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2007.06.004
  • Conference Papers | 2018
    2018, 'D-Cycloserine Facilitates Fear Extinction in Adolescent Rats and Differentially Affects Medial and Lateral Prefrontal Cortex Activation', in BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY, ELSEVIER SCIENCE INC, NY, New York, pp. S133 - S134, presented at 73rd Annual Scientific Convention and Meeting of the Society-of-Biological-Psychiatry (SOBP), NY, New York, 10 May 2018 - 12 May 2018, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.02.349
    Conference Abstracts | 2017
    Williams-Spooner M; Richardson R; Baker K, 2017, 'A High-Fat High-Sugar Diet-Induced Impairment of Fear Inhibition and Place-Recognition Memory in Adolescent Rats', in BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY, ELSEVIER SCIENCE INC, CA, San Diego, Vol. 81, pp. S338 - S339, presented at 72nd Annual Scientific Convention and Meeting of the Society-of-Biological-Psychiatry (SOBP), CA, San Diego, 18 May 2017 - 20 May 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.02.560
    Conference Papers | 2017
    2017, '832. Timing is Everything: Developmental Differences in the Effect of Chronic Stress on Extinction in Adolescent Rats', in Biological Psychiatry, Elsevier BV, pp. S337 - S337, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.02.899
    Conference Presentations | 2015
    Baker KD; Richardson R, 2015, 'Impaired Fear Extinction Retention in Adolescence: Age at Fear Learning or Age at Extinction?', Vol. 77, pp. 20S - 20S, presented at 70th Annual Scientific Convention and Meeting of the Society-of-Biological-Psychiatry on Stress, Emotion, Neurodevelopment and Psychopathology, CANADA, Toronto, 14 May 2015 - 16 May 2015, https://www.webofscience.com/api/gateway?GWVersion=2&SrcApp=PARTNER_APP&SrcAuth=LinksAMR&KeyUT=WOS:000352207500054&DestLinkType=FullRecord&DestApp=ALL_WOS&UsrCustomerID=891bb5ab6ba270e68a29b250adbe88d1

External Research Fellowships and Grants

  • Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project, 2023-2025, Baker & Richardson, Social buffering of fear inhibition in adolescent rats.

  • ARC Discovery Project, 2022-2024, Baker & Richardson, Dissecting the Brain Circuitry Shaping Fear Regulation Across Development.

  • ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), 2017-2019, Baker, Impaired fear inhibition in adolescence: an imbalance in the brain?

  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant 2015 – 2017, Richardson & Baker, A window of vulnerability: Impaired fear inhibition in adolescent rats.

  • NHMRC Peter Doherty Early Career Fellowship, 2013 – 2016, Baker, How is fear inhibited in the adolescent brain?

Industry Collaboration Funding

  • E3D Pharma (formerly CannaPacific Pty LTD; 2021-2022), Richardson, Graham, Baker, Endocannabinoids and fear extinction.

  • UNSW Science Industry Network Seed Funding, Richardson, Graham, Baker, Preclinical testing of novel cannabinoid therapeutic adjuncts for females with anxiety disorders.

Internal UNSW Grants

  • UNSW, Research Infrastructure Scheme 2022, Automated food and water intake measuring system purchase and upgrade, Ong, Begg, Prasad, Furlong, Rafiei, Richardson, Baker. 

  • UNSW, Research Infrastructure Scheme 2020, Richardson, Baker, Prasad, Ong, Zimmermann, McNally, Begg, & Killcross, Behavioural Neuroscience Group Expansion to PC2 labs on Level 6 of E26.

  • The University of New South Wales, Faculty of Science Research Grant 2014, Baker, Neural mechanisms of impaired fear inhibition in adolescence.

2019: UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program Early Career Scientist  https://www.science.unsw.edu.au/unsw-women-maths-and-science-champions-program

2017: Amygdala Function in Emotion, Cognition & Disease (Gordon Research Conference) Travel Award

2017: Early Career Investigator - International Travel Fellowship Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry (US$2000)

2016: Kucharski Young Investigator Award from the International Society of Developmental Psychobiology

2016: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), Wiley, the Sackler Institute, the Nurture Science Project at Columbia University, and ISDP (US$1200)

2014: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), the Sackler Institute, and the ISDP (US$800)

2014: FENS-IBRO FENS Forum Travel Grant (Euro $750)

2014: European FENS-SfN Summer School 2014 “Neurodevelopmental Psychiatric Disorders”

2013: Amygdala in Health & Disease (Gordon Research Seminar) Travel Award (US$504)

2012: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), the Sackler Institute, and the ISDP (US$750)

2011: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Travel Award

2006 – 2009: Australian Postgraduate Award, Monash University

2009: Undergraduate Psychology Teaching Award (PSY1011), Monash University

2009: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Travel Award

2007: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Poster Prize at IBRO2007

Research Goals

  • Advancing our understanding of how fear is inhibited in the adolescent brain

Research in Detail

My body of work primarily examines the behavioural, pharmacological, and neural mechanisms of fear extinction in adolescence. Within this research program, my work falls into three main areas:

    1. Neural mechanisms of fear extinction in adolescence

Despite stunning advances in recent decades in the knowledge of how the adult brain acquires and inhibits fear, significantly less is known about whether the adolescent brain uses the same mechanisms. This is a major gap in knowledge because adolescence is an important time when individuals learn to manage emotions. Many teens struggle with this, as evidenced by anxiety often emerging in this developmental stage. The process of extinction, which involves repeatedly exposing the individual to the feared stimulus/situation in the absence of any danger, is an important component of exposure-based therapies for anxiety disorders. Rats provide an excellent model to investigate the influence of brain maturation on fear extinction.

My empirical studies and reviews have made significant contributions towards understanding the neural mechanisms of fear inhibition in adolescence. For example, my work has shown that even when adolescents exhibit similar behavioural expressions of fear inhibition as younger animals, their brain mechanisms (e.g., recruitment of prefrontal and amygdala regions) can be completely different (Baker & Richardson, 2015). 

    2. Behavioural and pharmacological approaches to enhance extinction in adolescence

Youth often experience a relapse of anxiety after successful treatment. This has motivated my research to not only examine underlying reasons for why adolescents have difficulties in regulating fear but also novel, effective approaches to help reduce fear. Towards this goal, one stream of my research has focused on behavioural and pharmacological treatments that enhance fear reduction in adolescent rats. For instance, I have demonstrated the effectiveness of a simple behavioural manipulation for improving fear inhibition in adolescent rats (Baker, McNally, & Richardson, 2013 Learning & Memory), a procedure subsequently reported to eliminate fear in human adolescents only two years later (Johnson & Casey, 2015, Science Reports). 

Another promising approach to improving exposure therapy is with pharmacological adjuncts (i.e., medications given in combination with behavioural therapies) to enhance the acquisition or consolidation of extinction learning. Rodent studies on fear extinction are extremely useful in testing the safety and efficacy of a wide range of potential adjuncts before clinical trials. Our work has contributed to knowledge on the neural mechanisms underpinning effective adjuncts (e.g, D-cycloserine: Baker, McNally, & Richardson, 2018) and has identified others that are less effective in reducing fear in adolescence than in adulthood (e.g., those targeting the endocannabinoid system or opioid systems; Bisby, Richardson, & Baker, 2020; Bisby, Baker, & Richardson, 2020).

    3. Stress hormone and diet-induced dysregulation of brain function and fear memories

An exciting ongoing stream of my research is examining how circumstances like diet and stress exposure alter the mechanisms underlying fear regulation in adolescence. Although this work is fundamental basic research in nature, it aims to investigate factors that people experience in everyday life which profoundly alter brain function and hence behaviour. For example, one of my students found that chronic stress hormone exposure dramatically interferes with two approaches that improve fear regulation in adolescent male rats (Stylianakis et al., 2019). I have also demonstrated that rats fed a high-fat/high-sugar diet in adolescence exhibit impaired fear extinction in adulthood and increased anxiety-like behaviour as well as altered prefrontal brain function (Baker & Reichelt, 2016). 



2020 - UNSW Aspire Spring Gateway Program Science Faculty neuroscience live session for HSC students

2019 - UNESCO L'Oreal Girls in Science Forum Day

2019 - UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program Early Career Scientist  https://www.science.unsw.edu.au/unsw-women-maths-and-science-champions-program

August 2018 - “Speed Meet a Scientist” public event, Sydney Science Festival, Powerhouse Museum

2016 & 2017 - Brain Awareness Week, Rainbow St Primary School class demonstration


Professional affiliations and service positions

I am a member of the Society for Neuroscience, International Society of Developmental Psychobiology, and International Behavioral Neuroscience Society associations.

I was the Chair of a Biological Psychiatry Australia 2015 meeting symposium (September) “Fear and the developing brain across species: Insights into early-life vulnerabilities for anxiety”

My Research Supervision

Current PhD/M. Psych (Clinical) students 
  • Aqsa Shahid The effect of intergenerational stress on stress regulation across development (joint supervisor with Professor Rick Richardson) 
Past PhD/M. Psych (Clinical) students 
  • Anthea Stylianakis - The effect of chronic stress on the adolescent brain, learning, and memory (co-supervisor) 
  • Madelyne Bisby - The role of the endocannabinoid system in fear extinction in adolescent rats (joint supervisor with Professor Rick Richardson)
Past Honours Psychology students
  • Lauren Abdallah (2022) - The effect of social buffering on fear extinction and renewal in adolescent female rats
  • Angelique Roth (2022) - Friend or foe: The effect of a peer’s stress status on social buffering of conditioned fear responses in adult and adolescent rats
  • Emily Wall (2021) - Love thy neighbour: Social buffering enhances fear extinction in adolescent rats
  • Zihua (Rebecca) Wang (2020) - Estrous cycle-dependent effects of 7,8-Dihydroxyflavone, a small-molecule TrkB agonist, on fear extinction in adolescent female rats
  • Samuel Ma (2019) - The effect of D-cycloserine on Pavlovian fear extinction retention and relapse in adolescent rats with chronic fluoxetine exposure
  • Elizabeth Virakorn (2019) - The effect of chronic corticosterone exposure on perineuronal net expression and extinction retention in adolescent rats
  • August Gable (2018) - The effect of the estrous cycle on fear extinction retention and renewal in female adolescent rats
  • Aqsa Shahid (2018) - Feast without fear? The efficacy of tyrosine receptor kinase B (TrkB)-targeted pharmacotherapy in reducing fear in adolescent rats consuming a high-fat high-sugar diet
  • Verity Harris (2017) - The efficacy of D-cycloserine in reducing fear relapse in adolescent rats consuming a high-fat and high-sugar diet or standard diet
  • Bhiravi Thambi (2017) - Can the expression of juvenile fear memories be updated during adolescence? The effect of US re-exposure versus novel CS2-US pairings on extinction retention.
  • Anthea Stylianakis (2016) - Timing is everything: Developmental differences in the effect of stress on extinction retention in adolescence. 
  • Matthew Williams-Spooner (2016) - The effect of short exposures to high fat/high sugar diets during adolescence on retention of fear extinction. 
2021 Study Abroad Research Practicum student
  • Nicola Di Polito
Faculty of Science Summer Vacation Research Scholarship student
  • 2021/22 Jia Ni Teo
  • 2015/16 Ebony Verbunt

My Teaching

Courses I teach

Course Coordinator and Lecturer:
2022 (T2, T3 lecturer)
PSYC1029 - Psychobiology of Sex, Love, and Attraction


2021 (T2, T3)
PSYC1029 - Psychobiology of Sex, Love, and Attraction
2020 (T1, T2, T3 - Newly designed course)
PSYC1029 - Psychobiology of Sex, Love, and Attraction


2016 - 2022 (1 trimester per year)
PSYC3241 - Psychobiology of Memory and Motivation 


2015 (1 semester)
PSYC2081 - Learning and Physiological Psychology
ECH216 - Infancy and Early Development (Macquarie University)


Graduate Programs Lecturer:
From 2021
PSYC5113 - Developmental Neuroscience; Graduate Certificate in Child Development


From 2019
PSYC5005 - Neurobiology of Memories; Graduate Diploma in Psychology