Our lab incorporates a diverse, yet interrelated, cutting-edge approach, utilizing a variety of methods across behavioral, affective, and cognitive neuroscience to examine behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms underlying emotional processing and fear using rats, healthy participants, and patients with anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The overall aim of our research is to translate these discoveries to gain a better understanding of the cause and maintenance of anxiety disorders in which dysregulated affect are cardinal features and improve upon and/or develop new and better treatments for anxiety disorders and PTSD.
Pavlovian Fear Extinction
Our research objectives are built on the state-of-the-science formulation that anxiety disorders and PTSD are driven partly by ineffective fear extinction, and that treatments can be more effective if fear extinction and/or its retention are facilitated. For instance, we are currently investigating the use of pharmacological agents (e.g. cannabinoids), also known as ‘cognitive enhancers’ to enhance the neurochemical substrates involved in the retention of extinction memory and prevent the recovery of fear in healthy participants. This research project is a critical translational first step towards the development of pharmacological modulators as an adjunctive strategy to exposure-based therapies to augment extinction learning and prevent the return of fear memories in patients with PTSD and anxiety disorders.
Adverse childhood experiences (e.g., abuse, violence, medical trauma) are extremely common, and predispose some children to later cognitive and emotional disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD). In this project, we use advanced neuroimaging, virtual reality, and psychophysiological recordings to understand how childhood adversity impacts brain and behavioral development in children. We focus on learning, memory, and fear regulation systems in the brain, with an eye on inspiring development of new interventions (e.g., cognitive training, social engagement, family support).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
We are interested in understanding the behavioral and neural mechanisms mediating several characteristics of PTSD, such as, hyperarousal, abnormal reactivity to emotional stimuli and avoidance of emotionally distressing memories. In addition, we have also begun to investigate behavioral and neural mechanisms associated with resilience against developing PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event in comparison to healthy subjects without trauma exposure or PTSD.
Threat Processing & Emotion Regulation
Another branch of our research integrates affective and cognitive neuroscience perspectives to investigate behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms associated with threat perception and emotion-cognition interactions such as regulation of affect through cognitive-based strategies (e.g. reappraisal).