Central questions are:
– How does maltreatment and abuse change social interaction with others and how can we increase resilience and protect against development of depression or other problems?
– What role do hormones play in the development of mood or anxiety disorders or change emotional function
– What factors in cognitive changes across adolescence might increase risk for psychopathology in some individuals but not in others?
How do we do it?
To examine these social, cognitive, or emotional changes in vulnerable populations we use a variety of techniques going from behavioural tasks (pressing buttons on a computer) to examining eye movements (a measure of attention), changes in pupil size (a measure of arousal), or heart rate (a measure of cardiac reactivity to regulatory attempts) to looking at specific affected brain regions using structural and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Current Research in the lab:
Currently, we have several projects running. One central line through them is how an emotional context (e.g., an angry face looking at you) can influence the way we regulate or control our own behaviour, especially in populations that might experience problems with regulatory control (e.g., adolescents with anxiety or depression, victims of maltreatment, individuals with experience of parental loss). How would experiencing a certain type of emotion (fear, sad or happiness) influence my ability to control a response, by for example inhibiting it or cancelling it and changing to another task (imagine an angry boss who appears at your desk while you were writing an email and asks you attend to some unexpected business visitors). Arguably, being exposed to a happy stimulus might help me respond to the stimulus faster while seeing something sad or angry might slow me down.
Risk for development of anxiety and depression rises steeply during adolescence. The period of adolescence is characterised by increased risk seeking (e.g., rise in substance abuse,) but also poorer self-regulatory control, the interplay of which might contribute to the 400% rise in mortality rate relative to childhood. Some theories propose that this effect is (partly) due to different speed of development of “emotional” brain regions and brain regions involved in self-control. However, other influence such as that of peers or drastic levels in sex hormones (e.g., testosterone, oestrogen) during puberty have also been proposed. We have been looking at the influence of hormones to mood and anxiety disorders and subtle fluctuations in hormonal levels can have far reaching consequences in various groups including genetic forms of precocious puberty (Testotoxicosis or Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia).
If you happen to have any questions about our research or if you are interested in doing a PhD or postdoctoral fellowship in the lab on any of the topics mentioned above, please feel free to get in touch.