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Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience

Dr. Charlotte Boettiger: Human Neuroimaging Techniques Guide Drug and Alcohol Treatments
In recent decades, the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging in behavioral research has led to rapid advances in our knowledge of the functional organization of the brain and how alterations in brain organization affect behavior. Dr. Boettiger’s laboratory is applying human neuroimaging techniques to the study of addictive behavior. These techniques represent a promising avenue for guiding future treatment strategies for drug and alcohol use disorders.

Dr. Sylvia Fitting: Behavior and Neurocognition in HIV-1
Using state-of-the-art live cell imaging, electrophysiology, and behavioral techniques, Dr. Fitting’s laboratory is developing a better understanding of how cellular function is affected by drug abuse ± HIV/HIV-1 protein infection. Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infects the brain and many individuals suffer from HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders. Dr. Fitting determines the role of endocannabinoids in neuroAIDS and her experiments increasing endocannabinoid signaling will determine if it will be protective in models with neuronal damage.

Dr. Donald Lysle: Morphine and Its Preventive Effect on PTSD
Dr. Lysle and his research team established the first animal research that supports the use of morphine as a prophylactic pharmaceutical treatment for PTSD. In these studies, rats were exposed to the stress-enhanced fear learning (SEFL) paradigm, an animal model of PTSD, and administered morphine at different times following the initial traumatic stress. The results showed that morphine completely blocks the development of SEFL when administered 48 hours, but not immediately, following the initial trauma.

Dr. Kathryn Reissner: The Experience-Dependent Plasticity of Neuron-Astrocyte Interactions
Cocaine abuse exerts changes in astrocytes within the brain’s reward circuitry and these changes may contribute to the cellular mechanisms which drive relapse to drug use following abstinence. Dr. Reissner’s research demonstrates that astrocytes are smaller and colocalize less with neurons following withdrawal from cocaine self-administration within the nucleus accumbens core. Utilizing high-resolution microscopy to determine drug-induced adaptions in astrocytes can help identify pharmacological treatments to assist against drug relapse.

Clinical Psychology

Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz: Studying the Development and Treatment of Anxiety and OCD
Anxiety and fear are widely experienced phenomena and among the most common symptoms of psychological problems. Dr. Abramowitz’s laboratory examines the cognitive, affective, and behavioral factors that contribute to the development of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Using cognitive-behavioral therapy and smartphone applications, Dr. Abramowitz is working to identify the most important components of therapy to optimize treatment

Dr. Stacey Daughters: Stress, Reward, and Substance Use Outcomes
Stress and other forms of negative affect often precede relapse to substance use. Using a computerized behavioral task, Dr. Daughters examines indvidiual differences in the ability to tolerate stress and negative affect. Individuals with a substance use disorder – who can tolerate stress and negative affect during this task – are significantly more likely to stay in substance use treatment and maintain successful abstinence.

Dr. Michael Hallquist: Neurocomputational Mechanisms of Interpersonal Functioning and Personality
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. Using clinical interviewing, cognitive modeling, and neuroimaging, Dr. Hallquist seeks to understand the normative and dysfunctional development of personality and self-regulation.

Dr. Deborah Jones: Temper Tantrum App
Current estimates suggest that less than half of individuals in need of mental health treatment receive services. Technology is always evolving, but in Dr. Deborah Jones’ lab, her team is working to use smartphones as a delivery vehicle for treatment. Smartphones are a cost-effective option to provide access to functionality that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. By capitalizing on the increased use of smartphones among low-income consumes, Dr. Jones can help provide support and feedback for early onset problem behaviors.

Dr. David Penn: Integrating Coping Awareness Therapy for Young People with Psychosis
Intervening early, within the first five years, in the course of schizophrenia has the potential to change the trajectory of this mental illness. Dr. David Penn founded one of the first coordinated specialty care clinics, devoted to treating young people with psychosis, called OASIS (Outreach and Support Intervention Services). Despite these efforts, some young people remain vulnerable to future relapse. Dr. Penn’s work, utilizing positive psychology, has piloted interventions to improve clients’ sense of well-being and ability to manage stress.

Dr. Margaret Sheridan: Deprivation and Threat Underlying Adversity
Early adversity profoundly affects child development, including brain development, physiological reactivity to stress, and long-term risk for mental illness. Most models of these effects focus on the number, rather than the character of adverse childhood experiences. Dr. Sheridan examines how deprivation and threat increase risk for psychopathology through separable neurobiological pathways by measuring executive function.

Cognitive Psychology

Dr. Jennifer Arnold: Using Language Appropriately in Context
People know how to use language appropriately in context, for example selecting an ambiguous pronoun like she only when the context supports it. How do speakers do this? How do listeners use the context to interpret ambiguous expressions? Dr. Arnold studies the cognitive mechanisms behind choosing appropriate words and pronunciations, interpreting these expressions in context. Recent findings suggest that adults and children who read frequently are more influenced by the linguistic context, even when listening to spoken language.

Dr. Jessica Cohen: Neural Flexibility Changes Throughout Typical Development
Human are remarkably adaptable – we can instinctively change a planned course of action when the unexpected occurs, rapidly learn new skills, and deftly compensate for loss of functioning. This flexibility in behavior and control is present throughout the lifespan. Dr. Cohen investigates how distinct brain networks interact and reconfigure when confronted with changing contexts and how neural flexibility contributes to flexibility in control and the ability to learn.

Dr. Kelly Giovanello: Relational Memory, Concussions, and Neuroimaging
Dr. Giovanello is interested in specifying the cognitive and neural processes mediating relational memory and examining how these processes change with healthy aging, mild cognitive impairment, and concussion. Both concussion history and football participation history contribute to differential neural recruitment. In her study, concussion history had a stronger association than cumulative football participation history. History of concussions, rather than cumulative burden of sub-concussive impacts, may have a stronger effect on later-life neural efficiency.

Dr. Peter Gordon: Rapid Responses Assess Reading Skills and Literacy Gains
Dr. Gordon aims to increase understanding of how the coordination of component processes contribute to individual differences in reading ability and cognitive function and why tasks that require rapid responses to a series of items have been valuable tools for assessing reading skill and future literacy gains. In collaboration with a colleague at USC, Dr. Gordon conducted the first-ever investigations of rapid naming using Real-Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Electrocmagnetic Articulography.

Dr. Joseph Hopfinger: Transcranial Neurostimulation Enhances Attention
Attention allows us to focus on and respond to the most important aspects of our environment. Transient lapses of attention lead to inefficient learning, distracted driving, and neglect of ongoing needs – and the involuntary capture of attention to stimuli that trigger cravings relates to the difficulties in overcoming addiction. In his work, Dr. Hopfinger is using transcranial neurostimulation not only to target the brain region of interest, but to stimulate at frequencies involved with the specific function of attention.

Developmental Psychology

Dr. Carol Cheatham: Nutrition Throughout the Lifespan
Dr. Carol Cheatham’s research focuses on effects of nutrition on brain development and function throughout the lifespan. In her work, she is exploring the importance of certain nutrients and foods to the development, maintenance, and lifelong integrity of the hippocampus and frontal brain areas. Dr. Cheatham’s Nutrition and Cognition lab has active studies in four age groups to discover why nutrition is important at any age.

Dr. Jean-Louis Gariepy: Stress Response Relates to Individual Differences in Socio-Emotional Adaptation
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is one of the principal systems that mediates the physical response to challenge by increasing cortisol in the blood system. HPA axis activity is linked to stress and adverse care-giving environments. In a recent study, Dr. Gariepy examined how more distal forms of adversity are associated with individual differences in HPA axis activity. His research has shown that the rate at which this neuroendocrine activity is suppressed before 36 months of age is reduced in proportions that match the extent of exposure to adversity in early childhood.

Dr. Eva Telzer: Adolescent Neural Responses to Reward for Healthy Development
During adolescent brain development, there is heightened activity in the reward system that orients teens towards risky behaviors. Dr. Telzer examines neural responses to prosocial decision making in adolescence and how teens perceive risks. Her research reveals that heightened activity in the reward system can actually lead adolescents away from risks and motivate adolescents to engage in more thoughtful behaviors.

Quantitative Psychology

Dr. Daniel Bauer: A NIDA Project with a Novel Approach to Methodological Validation
Our scientific community has grown increasingly interested in how to integrate information across data sources to promote cumulative research. Combining data resources offers many advantages, including the ability to examine the consistency of findings across multiple studies and to investigate new research questions. Dr. Daniel Bauer and colleagues are creating new methodological approaches for integrative data analysis and, in a NIDA-funded project, are evaluating the validity of psychometric approaches to measurement harmonization.

Dr. Kenneth Bollen: Developing More Robust and Reliable Methods for Structural Equation Modeling
According to a report on replicability in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, it is far more difficult to replicate prior research than it should be. Dr. Bollen is working to develop more robust and reliable methods for research, including a general longitudinal model that encompasses a diverse set of longitudinal models as special cases. This work is intended to provide a robust modeling framework so that researchers can turn to simpler models when permissible and more comprehensive models are needed.

Dr. Katie Gates: Heterogeneity in Temporal Processes
Emerging evidence suggests that much heterogeneity exists in temporal processes across individuals. This has been seen in daily diary studies as well as brain imaging studies, and within clinical populations as well as typically developing controls. Motivated by these findings, Dr. Katie Gates and her research team develop, evaluate, and utilize novel statistical methods for modeling heterogeneity in human processes. Their work culminates in freely disseminated statistical packages and toolboxes that are used worldwide.

Dr. David Thissen: How Much Change is a Change?
Patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures have become increasingly important in medical research and drug trials. PRO measures are usually psychological questionnaires with the patients as respondents, so they benefit from the application of modern psychometric theory. Dr. Thissen’s group in the Psychometric Lab has collaborated for over a decade with colleagues in the UNC Schools of Medicine and Public Health, and at other institutions, on the interdisciplinary NIH-initiated Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System® (PROMIS®). One recent task was to determine an answer to the question “how much change is a change?”.

Social Psychology

Dr. Kurt Gray: The Mind Club
No issues are debated more fiercely that issues of morality. At root of many debates is an innocuous-seeming question: what has a mind? It may seem obvious to you that other people have minds, but what about animals, or fetuses, or teenagers? Do they belong in the “mind club,” that collection of entities that can think and feel? Dr. Kurt Gray examines how people decide who belongs in the mind club—and how these decisions can be matters of life and death.

Dr. Kristen Lindquist: How the Body and Brain Create Emotions
Body states such as hunger, fatigue, and illness exert powerful effects on our emotions. Through several lines of research, Dr. Lindquist examines how the body’s ongoing physiological state shapes our experiences of emotion. Recent studies investigate the role of hunger on emotions and how emotions shift across the adult age-span. Dr. Lindquist’s research is helping society and science better understand how emotions change through our lives and how emotions become dysfunctional in mood disorders, addiction, and physical illness.

Dr. Keely Muscatell: Neural and Physiological Responses to Stress
Stressful experiences are processed by the brain and translated into bodily changes that can impact our health. Using fMRI and measuring physiological processes, Dr. Muscatell investigates how stress can impact the brain and body and lead to the development of chronic diseases and psychological disorders. Recent studies examine stress in breast cancer survivors and how the brain reacts to social feedback as it is processed across the racial divide.

Dr. Keith Payne: Economic Inequality Increases Risk Taking
Poverty has a way of perpetuating itself. The reasons are many, but one is that people facing poverty sometimes make self-defeating decisions. These cycles of poverty leading to bad decisions, which in turn deepen poverty, have sometimes been used to blame the poor for their own plight. But Dr. Payne’s research suggests that such risky decisions are a side-effect of a generally adaptive way that people respond to inequality in their environments.