Projects

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Our research is dedicated to understanding the neural bases of healthy and pathological emotional processing.  Currently, our research program has three main foci: individual differences in affective and cognitive processes associated with anxiety, trauma, and depression, understanding cognitive-affective processes in disinhibitory psychopathology, and characterizing the essential stimulus properties of environmental cues that signal threat. We use multimodal neuroimaging, psychophysiological, behavioral, genetic, and self-report tools to examine these questions. Current research topics include:

Individual Differences in Emotional Reactivity and Emotion Regulation

  • Difficulty terminating responses to negative stimuli or sustaining responses to positive stimuli in depression and anxiety.
  • Role of candidate genes in sustained responding to unpleasant stimuli and cognitive-affective processes and emotion regulation
  • The effects of resource depletion on emotion regulation
  • Effects of reward on visual selective attention and attentional control

Anxiety & Trauma: Emotion Regulation, and Cognitive-Affective Processing

  • Impaired extinction learning and deficits in habituation as models for symptom maintenance and emotion dysregulation in anxiety
  • Difficulty filtering task-irrelevant threat and reward cues from entering working memory, and the relevance of this deficit for anxiety
  • Affective reactivity and extinction learning immediately following a traumatic event as predictors of long-term post-trauma well-being and psychopathology
  • Cortical complexity, cortical thickness, and white matter integrity in anxiety

Depression: Rumination and Reward Processing

  • Ability to use reward to enhance cognition (e.g., visual selective attention) and how this reward facilitation is dampened among individuals with a history of depression
  • Aberrant functional connectivity during rumination in depression

Disinhibitory Psychopathology: Emotional Reactivity and Cognition-Emotion Interactions

  • Attentional influences on threat processing in psychopathy
  • Negative affect in aggression
  • Cortical complexity in psychopathy

Stimulus Properties Facilitating Detection of Threat

When we see something that frightens us, how do we know to be afraid? What is it about that stimulus that signals threat? This line of research is designed to answer such questions, primarily through isolating the most basic, essential features of a visual stimulus capable of signaling threat. In a series of studies conducted together with Joel Aronoff of Michigan State University we found that a downward-pointing V shape, stripped of all contextual cues (literally a “V”) functions much like a typical contextually-laden threat stimulus. The downward V shape

  • Is subjectively perceived as unpleasant, using both explicit and implicit assessment
  • Rapidly captures attention in a visual search task (when compared with the same V shape inverted)
  • Activates the amygdala and other regions previously associated with threat perception and negative affect