Quenten Highgate

Investigating the Role of Behavioral Flexibility in Drug Addiction

Quenten Highgate profile-picture photograph

Quenten Highgate

Quenten Highgate

PhD Student
School of Psychology


Tēnā koe,

I am a senior doctoral student from the school of Psychology’s drug abuse laboratory group. I have been conducting research under the guidance of Professor Susan Schenk over the last six years and now serve as a mentor to new students in our research group. I have learned a wide range of experimental techniques and have been involved in conducting and publishing research assessing behavioural flexibility, drug discrimination, self-administration, and other operant procedures. I am proficient in using MEDstate notation programming language and I serve as our laboratory groups technician for all things related to this. I am also very passionate about teaching and facilitating education. Outside of our laboratory group I work as a tutor and teaching assistant for several of our undergraduate courses in the school of Psychology.

Ngā mihi.


BSc (1st class hons.), Psychology, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington.
BSc, Statistics, School of Mathematics and Statistics, Victoria University of Wellington.

Research Interests

The development and treatment of drug addiction


Highgate, Q. & Schenk, S. (2018). Comparison of the effects of abstinence on MDMA and cocaine self-administration in rats. Psychopharmacology, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-5026-1.

Schenk, S., & Highgate, Q. (2018). Dopamine and serotonin antagonists fail to alter the disciminative stimulus properties of  ±methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Behavioral Pharmacology, DOI:10.1097/FBP.0000000000000442

Schenk, S., Foote, J., Aronsen, D., Bukholt, N., Highgate, Q., Van de Wetering, R., & Webster, J. (2016). Serotonin antagonists fail to alter MDMA self-administration in rats. Pharmacolgy Biochemistry and Behavior, 148, 38–45.

Highgate, Q. & Schenk, S. (2020). Cognitive flexibility in humans and other laboratory animals. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. 1-31.

Conference Presentations

Highgate, Q. (September 2019). Characterising behavioural flexibility to predict addiction susceptibility. 7th biennial Meeting of the International Drug Abuse Research Society, Casablanca, Morocco.

Highgate, Q. (August 2018). Differential effects of abstinence on MDMA and cocaine self-administration in rats. 36th annual meeting of the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research, Queenstown, New Zealand.

PhD topic

The role of behavioural flexibility in substance abuse

Individuals with a history of substance abuse tend to cycle between periods of abstinence and relapse in perpetuity. Even those who partake in interventions or treatment programmes designed to develop pro-abstinence strategies tend to relapse. It may be that the cognitive impairments associated with long-term substance abuse prevent these individuals from successfully incorporating and using these pro-abstinence strategies.

One cognitive skill critical for adaptation is behavioural flexibility. This refers to an animal’s ability to shift or change its actions and strategies in response to situational, circumstantial, or environmental changes. Individuals with a history of substance abuse tend be perform poorly on tasks that probe behavioural flexibility. This comes as no surprise since these individuals also tend to have profound tissue damage and dysfunctional activity in the neurochemical systems and brain regions that are critically involved  behavioural flexibility.

My research has focused on developing an analogue of the tasks used to assess behavioural flexibility with the purpose of identifying drug-based treatments that can enhance behavioural flexibility. I am specifically interested in the role of the dopamine D2 receptor and identifying a short-term drug-based intervention capable of producing a relatively long-lasting change in its function. My work will not produce a magic pill that stops substance abuse, but it will identify a drug-treatment that gives these individuals a better chance of successfully developing the pro-abstinence strategies they are taught during treatment.


 profile picture

Susan Schenk

Senior Lecturer
School of Psychology

Lab Association

The Behavioural Pharmacology Lab - Directed by Susan Schenk

We are interested in studying the factors that contribute to the initiation, maintenance and relapse to drug abuse. Most of our work has measured the effects of MDMA