June 27th, 2011

Neural Correlates of Self. This line of research is a collaborative effort with Dr. Bill Kelley 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, which are active in various aspects of self-representation. Of course, people differ in how they view themselves, with some people having generally favorable (i.e., those with high self-esteem) and other with generally more negative (i.e., low self-esteem) views. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we are currently using fMRI and anatomy based diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine individual differences in how people process information about the self.

Neural Correlates of Reward. This line of research is also a collaborative effort with Dr. Bill Kelley, as well as 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 a research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 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.

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