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The human brain changes rapidly in adolescence and early adulthood, potentially facilitating the integration of social information, emotions, and long-term goals. Yet for individuals whose emotions are especially reactive and intense, this may be a period of risk for volatile relationships and impulsive behaviors that are harmful. Under the direction of Dr. Michael Hallquist, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Quantitative Psychology, the Developmental Personality Neuroscience (DEPENd) Lab seeks to understand the normative and dysfunctional development of personality and self-regulation. The DEPENd Lab uses clinical interviewing, cognitive modeling, and neuroimaging to characterize personality, brain, and behavioral differences in young people who experience intense, unstable emotions. A primary focus in the lab is investigating decision processes and neurocomputational systems that underlie personality pathology and suicidal behavior.

Current work in the lab includes the Neurocomputational Mechanisms of Affiliation and Personality (NeuroMAP) study. The NeuroMAP study aims to understand how challenges with emotion regulation, impulsivity, and interpersonal sensitivity relate to decision processes that can be measured by functional neuroimaging and computational reinforcement learning models. This approach builds on neuroscience research that has identified a key distinction between Pavlovian and goal-directed neurocomputational systems that are implemented in specific brain circuits. Dr. Hallquist’s study will examine whether circuits involved in goal-directed learning are vulnerable to disruptions by social and emotional cues that exert Pavlovian influences on decision-making. This work can help us understand some kinds of mental illness such as borderline personality and social anxiety disorder. The study will also consider how the maturation of control-related brain networks influences Pavlovian and goal-directed systems. The NeuroMAP study is funded by an award to Dr. Hallquist from the National Institute of Mental Health Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (NIMH BRAINS) program.

Another major project in the DEPENd Lab, the Momentum study, aims to describe the relationships among reward responsiveness, reinforcement learning, and subjective valuation using a new computational reinforcement learning model. Using assessments of physiology, brain activity, reward responsiveness, and subjective mood in daily life, Dr. Hallquist and his team hopes to provide new insights into the neurobiological and psychosocial underpinnings of emotional instability. This work is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health as part of its Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative to understand broader biological and cognitive processes associated with mental health and illness.

Dr. Michael Hallquist is an Associate Professor in the Clinical Psychology Program and Quantitative Psychology Program in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He is also the Director of the Developmental Personality Neuroscience Laboratory at UNC Chapel Hill. His research seeks to characterize how the disrupted maturation of neurobehavioral systems during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with the emergence of emotional and interpersonal problems. As a clinician, his approach integrates third-wave behavior therapies (especially Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), short-term psychodynamic therapy, and cognitive-behavioral approaches.

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