Research

December 8th, 2011

Our research program explores three lines of research using neuroimaging, neuropsychological, and behavioral techniques. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) serves as our primary neuroimaging tool. To that end, our lab has collected fMRI data from more than 1,200 subjects over the course of the last seven years. Three overarching questions motivate our research.

Neural Correlates of Memory. This line of research addresses a wide range of questions related to the neural representation of memory.   For example, how do we form memories for different kinds of information- such as an unfamiliar face, a tune we hear on the radio, or something we read in the newspaper? What are the neural components of remembering?  How does emotion impact memory? And why are some individuals better memorizers than others? (More…)

Neural Correlates of Self. Our second line of research is a collaborative effort with Dr. Todd Heatherton that investigates how various cognitive and emotional component processes give rise to a unitary sense of self. Initial studies have identified a number of central midline brain structures, notably the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and ventral anterior cingulate cortex, that are active in various aspects of self-representation. Of course, people differ in how they view themselves, with some people generally favorable (i.e., those with high self-esteem) and others generally more negative (low self-esteem). With support from the National Science Foundation, we are currently using fMRI and resting-state functional connectivity MRI to examine individual differences in how people process information about the self.  (More…)

Neural Correlates of Self-Regulation and Reward. The final line of research is also a collaborative effort with Dr. Todd Heatherton and Dr. Paul Whalen that investigates a putative shared neural architecture for the representation of different kinds of reward.  This work is in its early stages and is supported by research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  Specifically, we are investigating the neural response to stimuli that are considered to be rewarding to different groups of people.  For example, our recent work has demonstrated that viewing attractive, opposite-sex faces engages the nucleus accumbens more so than viewing unattractive faces.  This same brain region is similarly responsive when restricted eaters (i.e., dieters) view images of food, and also when avid players of online video games view images of virtual equipment that is judged to be desirable for their virtual avatar. (More…)


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