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Current Research Projects

The Clinical Neuroscience lab is currently focusing on: 

Social Processes in Psychiatric Disorders

A core area of interest in our lab is to examine social processes and their associated role with social functioning in psychiatric disorders. We are particularly interested in these processes in individuals across the psychosis spectrum, as well as individuals across the autism spectrum. Our work examines social processes at multiple levels including the structure and function of the social brain, social cognitive abilities, specific social skills, and overall social functioning. We believe understanding social functioning requires us to examine the building blocks of social interactions. We are particularly interested in whether deficits in social cognitive and social functioning processes in childhood, often present before overt psychotic symptoms, may help identify and predict which children go on to develop a serious mental illness. Using behavioral, neuroimaging, and computational tools we aim to understand how the social brain and social cognition contribute to impairments in social skills and social functioning in neurotypical individuals and those with and at risk for serious mental illness.

Social Determinants of Psychosis Risk

Throughout development individuals experience a variety of social conditions that affect mental health outcomes. These social determinants are frequently the result of inequitable social and environmental conditions. Another primary area of focus in the lab is to better understand how specific social experiences may increase risk for serious mental illness. Previous research indicates that the disproportionate number of marginalized individuals with psychotic disorders could be partially explained by inequitable social norms and policies. By examining social defeat, or exclusion from the majority group (Selten et al., 2013), we aim to identify how experiences like racism and discrimination affect individuals, through neuroimaging, behavioral, experimental, and ecological momentary assessment. Novel work in our lab examines social defeat in adolescents to evaluate developmental aspects of social determinants of psychosis risk, as well as experimentally manipulating social defeat to determine causal pathways leading to psychotic-like symptoms.

Social Support, Social Functioning, & Serious Mental Illness

Effective social functioning and strong social support are important factors in day-to-day life and may be challenging for individuals with serious mental illness. Our lab aims to better understand how these variables are interrelated and the effects they may have on other aspects of life. In particular we are interested in how social support may enhance quality of life and may be associated with better treatment engagement. Additionally, the majority of research to date examines correlational relationships between social functioning and symptoms of serious mental illness. We aim to examine both longitudinally and through behavioral manipulations, the causal relationship between social support and symptoms of serious mental illness. Increasing social support is a potentially a targetable and accessible goal for prevention and intervention strategies for individuals with and at-risk for serious mental illness.

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