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CCN talk November 28, 2017

Tor Wager

Tor Wager

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience; Faculty member, Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience

The University of Colorado, Boulder

Neuroimaging of pain and emotion: Computation, representation, and regulation

Time: 4:00-5:00

Place: Moore Hall, room 202


Pain and emotion are central to human life. Their experience defines our wellbeing, and the brain processes that underlie them drive behavior and learning. Developing the capacity to influence them, and sometimes to accept them, motivates human endeavors ranging from spiritual practices to medical interventions. Developing models of the brain systems that generate pain and emotion could transform how we understand their neurophysiological origins, and how we understand interventions ranging from psychotherapy to self-regulation to drug effects. However, developing such models will require computational advances, particularly in our ability to model how emergent properties like pain arise from complex interactions among brain systems, and how to construct such models so that they have high neuroscientist interpretability, predictive validity, and reproducibility. In this talk, I describe a series of studies aimed at addressing these goals. Combining functional neuroimaging with machine learning techniques, we have developed brain models capable of predicting the intensity of pain, negative affect, empathy, and autonomic activity in individual participants, with no prior knowledge about the individual's experience. I will show ow these models can serve as measures of the brain processes that generate pain and emotion, and how interrogating the structure of these models and relationships among them can provide insight into how the brain represents multiple varieties of affective experience. And, finally, I will show how these models allow us to compare diverse interventions on a level playing field, shedding light on how both cognitive and drug interventions work and how they might be inter-related.