Lab Projects

Family Study of Emotion and Emotional Disorders
The purpose of this study is to examine whether two transdiagnostic dimensions - reduced reward anticipation and heightened sensitivity to potential threat - represent risk factors for internalizing psychopathology (i.e., depression and anxiety), consistent with the NIMH's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative. To accomplish this, we are assessing reward and threat sensitivity using multiple physiological, behavioral, and self-report measures among individuals with and without emotional difficulties and their families. Psychophysiological measures include ERPs and anterior EEG asymmetry during reward processing; startle potentiation during threat; and measures of autonomic functioning (e.g., heartrate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia).If these indicators prove to be familial markers of risk for psychopathology, they will make excellent (and relatively inexpensive) laboratory targets for prevention/early intervention efforts as well as targets for treatment development studies.

Reliability of Reward and Threat Sensitivity
This study is primarily intended to measure the reliability of our lab tasks that we use across studies. Additionally, we are investigating whether or not this reliability can be correlated with personality traits or characteristics of participants in this study. These tasks are used throughout the literature to assess variables such as threat sensitivity and reward anticipation but only throughout one session, but have not yet been assessed over multiple sessions. We will be measuring changes in these variables while having participants complete our lab tasks across five sessions. At the end of this study we will have a much better understanding of the stability of these traits over time.

Genetics of Reward and Threat Sensitivity
Our lab is also examining how genetic variation relates to individuals' processing of reward and threat information. In both healthy and clinical samples, we are examining multiple polymorphisms in dopaminergic and serotonergic genes that may affect the nervous system's sensitivity to different types of appetitive and defensive stimuli. We are pursuing this project in collaboration with Jeffrey Bishop, director of the Pharmacogenomics Laboratory in the UIC College of Pharmacy, with funding from several grants from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Our lab is involved in several ongoing collaborations with researchers outside of the UIC Psychology Department.
  • With Peter Lewinsohn, John Seeley, and others at the Oregon Research Institute, we are working on projects examining the validity, course, and family history of subthreshold psychopathology, and the effect of moderators such as substance abuse on the course of psychopathology.
  • In collaboration with Martin Harrow of the UIC Department of Psychiatry, we are examining the 26-year course of personality, cognition, and other factors in a longitudinal sample of  individuals with mood disorders.
  • Our lab is working with Daniel Klein of Stony Brook University on a longitudinal project examining temperamental precursors and risk factors for depression and anxiety disorders.
  • We are working with Scot Hill of Rosalind Franklin University on a project examining ERP markers of working memory disturbance in schizophrenia.