International Expert in Circadian Rhythms, Dr. Roberto Refinetti, takes Psychology Chair at University of New Orleans

Dr. Roberto Refinetti, biological and comparative psychologist, and international expert in circadian rhythms, is the new Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Orleans. Dr. Refinetti is author of Circadian Physiology, currently in its third edition, and has
published more than 200 articles in professional journals. His scientific reputation is at the top 3% of professors at research universities, and his h index = 32.

Dr. Refinetti came on board in the fall, joining UNO after many years as as a faculty member at the College of William and Mary, the University of South Carolina, and Boise State University.

He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Circadian Rhythms and of the social science journal Sexuality & Culture. And this month he also becomes the Editor-in-Chief of the biological
journal Chronobiology International. He is a Fellow of the American Physiological Society and a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, and other professional associations.

“UNO is a great university in a great location,” Dr. Refinetti said. “It is not common that a department chair can say, as I can, that he likes the university’s president, the provost, and
the dean of his college. The department of psychology has a strong biological orientation, which is something I like very much because I have always been a biological psychologist.”

Examples of his work as a biological and comparative psychologist include: “The circadian rhythm of body temperature,” in Physiology & Behavior, “Non-stationary time series and the robustness of circadian rhythms,” in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, “Relationship between the daily rhythms of locomotor activity and body temperature in eight mammalian species,” in American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, “Temporal relationships of 21 physiological variables in horse and sheep,” in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, “Variability of diurnality in laboratory rodents,” in the Journal of Comparative Physiology, “Entrainment of circadian rhythm by ambient temperature cycles in mice,” in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, and “Amplitude of the daily rhythm of body temperature in eleven mammalian species,” in Journal of Thermal Biology.

Dr. Refinetti is also a favorite with the popular media, having been interviewed by BBC Website, Stossel TV, CBC Radio-Canada, Nature, KTVB NBC News, The Register, Quanta Magazine, Men’s Fitness Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Newsweek Special Editions, Parents Magazine, Parents Magazine, Veterinary Technician, Discovery News, and many others.

Dr. Refinetti has served as a consultant for numerous newspaper and television reporters preparing articles or shows such as the following:

An article on circadian rhythms for Newsweek Special Editions
An article on jet-lag prevention for Atlantic Media’s Quartz
An article on why humans have sex at night for Gizmodo
An article on best time of day for working for Wired Magazine
A documentary on circadian rhythms and hypothetical cataclysmic events for the
Science Channel

His plans for the psychology department at UNO are ongoing. “The department is
relatively small, with eight full-time faculty members, but most faculty members are in
the early stages of their careers, which means that I can make a big difference in their professional lives, and that’s a satisfying feeling,” Dr. Refinetti said.

“My immediate plans are to provide strong support for the faculty, so that they can succeed in their teaching and research, and to make necessary adjustments in the curriculum to ensure that both the undergraduate and the graduate programs are effective and up to date,” he said.

“In the longer term, I would like to recruit more faculty members, to increase research collaborations with other departments at UNO and at other universities, and to augment the
extramural funding of research in the department. Developing an undergraduate program in behavioral neuroscience is also an idea in the backburner.”

How did he come to choose our community and New Orleans, Louisiana?

“It is common for people in academia to move around,” he said. “My first job as a university professor was in Virginia. Things didn’t work very well there, and I moved to South Carolina. I was in South Carolina for 16 years. The weather and culture there were similar to Louisiana’s,
and I liked it there,” he said. “I was on a small campus of the University of South Carolina, however, and didn’t have a real opportunity for advancement. So, I moved to Idaho to become the chair of the department of psychology at Boise State University. They had a good football team (and the famous blue turf), but I didn’t go there for the football team. So, six years later, when I learned that UNO was looking for an experienced scholar to chair its department of psychology, I applied and was lucky to get the job.”

At UNO, Dr. Refinetti will continue to head up his Circadian Rhythm Laboratory, which he established in 1986.

“We have been in South America and in the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest of the United States. Often, but not always, we have been associated with universities,” according to the Lab website website.

“Biological processes that cycle in 24-hour intervals are called daily rhythms (or, less often, nycthemeral rhythms). When a daily rhythm is endogenously generated, but still susceptible to modulation by 24-hour environmental cycles, it is called a circadian rhythm. Many behavioral processes of individual organisms exhibit daily and/or circadian rhythmicity, including locomotor activity, feeding, excretion, sensory processing, and learning capability. Rhythms of locomotor activity have been the most thoroughly-studied behavioral rhythms.

“Many autonomic processes of individual organisms exhibit daily and/or circadian rhythmicity, including the control of body temperature, cardiovascular function, melatonin secretion, cortisol secretion, metabolism, and sleep. Rhythms of body temperature have been the most thoroughly-studied autonomic rhythms.”

The homeostasis of body temperature is a central feature of the physiology of mammals and birds, including humans. Body temperature is one of many physiological variables that have been found to express circadian rhythmicity. The study of the regulation of body temperature is a traditional subfield of physiology called Thermal Physiology.”

Dr. Refinetti has been teaching at the university level since 1986. He has taught undergraduate courses on Introductory Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Philosophy of Psychology, History and Systems of Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Statistics, Research Methods, Sensation and Perception, Human Sexuality, and Biological Rhythms. He has taught graduate courses on Physiological Psychology and on Sensation and Perception. He prides himself on delivering well-researched and well-organized lectures (making use of multimedia resources and computer technology) and on encouraging critical thinking by stimulating classroom discussions and by assigning home work with broader implications.

How does he like New Orleans so far?

“I arrived in New Orleans this past summer,” Dr. Refinetti said, “just in time to experience the most active tropical storm year in history, which did cause damage to my house facing Lake Catherine. In the winter, the two-night freeze caused several pipes outside my house to burst. And, of course, the covid pandemic greatly limited my ability to interact with students on campus and to experience the food and music of New Orleans. Yet, I love it here. I love the
weather (when there isn’t a hurricane or a freeze), I love the scenery, I love the people. I’ll have much more to enjoy as New Orleans reopens after the pandemic.”

While Dr. Refinetti spends most of his time at the lab or at the office, he has dedicated some time to artistic activities, especially in the past, his efforts including music, poetry, photography, and painting. He has even composed original pieces. (To listen to some of his compositions, visit the “Music” section of his website.)

“When I am not working (which is rare), I play the piano,” he said.

Dr. Refinetti is married, and his wife, who is not in New Orleans yet, will be joining him in the summer.

He can be reached at the address below and more about his work is available at these sites:

Professor, University of New Orleans,
Head, Circadian Rhythm Laboratory,
Fellow, American Physiological Society,
Author, Circadian Physiology,
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Circadian Rhythms,
Editor-in-Chief, Sexuality & Culture,







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