Perceptual processing of emotional stimuli
A number of models argue for the prioritized processing of threat-related stimuli. Here we investigate the neural substrate of perceptual processing of emotional stimuli using a range of stimuli (from scenes to faces) and approaches (including fMRI studies of neural adaptation, EEG, and advanced approaches to modeling fMRI data)
Collaborators: Geoff Aguirre (U. Penn), Jack Gallant (UC Berkeley)
In this line of research, we are using both fMRI and MEG to investigate the mechanisms that support the processing of facial expression and identity.
Attentional function: training and neurofeedback
Disruption to the frontal mechanisms supporting attentional control is implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders. We have recently shown it to characterize healthy volunteers with high levels of trait anxiety. This line of research investigates whether we can identify those individuals showing impoverished recruitment of frontal attentional mechanisms and help them to improve their attentional function through cognitive training. Here we are also investigating the potential augmentation of training effects by supplying neurofeedback from frontal regions.
Neurocognitive substrate of trait vulnerability to anxiety
Typical stimuli for attention/threat task
Within the affective cognitive neuroscience literature, there is an ongoing debate as to whether a fast subcortical thalamoamygdala pathway enables processing of threat-related stimuli that is independent of attentional resources. Our aim within this field has been to highlight the importance of considering both individual differences in anxiety and the role of top-down control mechanisms in regulating attention to threat distractors.
Collaborators: John Duncan (MRC CBU, Cambridge, UK), Rob Jenkins (U. Glasgow, UK), Andrew Lawrence (U. Cardiff, UK). follow link for more info
Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying altered fear conditioning in anxious individuals
Anxious individuals show stronger acquisition and greater persistence of conditioned fear responses. In this line of work we investigate how the function of the mechanisms supporting cued and contextual fear conditioning is modulated by individual differences in trait anxiety.
Collaborators: Trevor Robbins (U. Cambridge, UK), Iole Indovina (Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy)follow link for more info
Genetic influences upon neuro-cognitive function
This line of research investigates individual differences in cortical and subcortical function from a genetics perspective. For example, studies conducted have examined modulation by the COMT val 158 met polymorphism of frontal function during both fluid reasoning and attentional regulation of threat processing and modulation by the serotonin transport polymorphism of the amygdala response to threat-related distractors. Currently we are exploring ways to go beyond a 'candidate gene' approach to investigating genetic influences upon brain function.
Collaborators: John Fossella at Mount Sinai School of Medicinefollow link for more info