Click here for a list of lab publications organized by research topic

For potential graduate applicants.
This ought to be a page to describe all of the lab's research interests, but I've decided it would be more useful to describe the topics for which we would be looking for new prospective graduate students this coming year. If that's you, you have come to the right place. I want to make clear there is often flexibility in how we study these topics so there may be a way to take your passionate interests and link them to one of these. But there are the topics that I will be looking for among applicants to our lab.

How does the activation of Mentalizing Network during periods of rest help us think about other people and ourselves?
For about a decade now, we have known that the same network that is active when we think about other people's thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (i.e. the Mentalizing network) is also surprisingly active when participants in fMRI studies are not asked to do anything at all - during rest. This activity during rest is called the Default Mode because this network comes on by default when we aren't given something else to do. Given that the network that supports thinking about other minds comes on during these breaks in the action, we have hypothesized that the default mode during rest supports various evolutionarily significant functions like preparing us to think socially in the next moment or helping to consolidate new social information that we take in. One major goal of the lab is to think about different ways that this default activity during rest may contribute to our social and self-related abilities.

What does the Default Mode Network really do?
As mentioned above, there is strong anatomical overlap between the regions of the brain that are surprisingly active at rest and those involved in social thinking, in mentalizing. However, these regions also overlap with those involved with memory, past and future thinking, semantic knowledge, and causal reasoning. Most of these alternative accounts fail to take the others into consideration. For instance, studies of social thinking vs. non-social thinking do not typically control for amount of semantic knowledge recruited. Alternatively, studies of semantic knowledge do not typically control for whether the content is social or non-social. By running studies that parse out these relative contributions, we will achieve a clearer understanding of the basic functions of this network.

Latitude of Acceptance.
The comedian George Carlin once asked if "Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" We are wired to think our own experience and reaction to the world is objective and when others disagree there is something wrong with them. We are interested in investigating the 'bubble'' between our own views and these truly unacceptable views. Within a 'latitude of acceptance' (i.e. the bubble) there are views that we do not hold but we can still see as reasonable. Someone who hates your favorite movie is clearly wrong, but what if they like it but don't think its the best movie ever? That person can still come to your party, right? We think this bubble around your own views may be critical in determining the range of views we ourselves might take over time, even though we don't perceive it that way. We think this bubble might flex and shift over time for different beliefs and in the presence of different factors (the opinion of a significant other, alcohol, self-affirmation, etc.). Thus, we are interested in investigating how our latitudes of acceptance on different issues drive our interactions and perceptions of others and how we ourselves do and do not change our beliefs over time.

Peruasion, Message Propagation, & Social Media.
We have conducted multiple studies demonstrating that we can use fMRI to predict how people will respond to persuasive messages (e.g. advertisements, movie trailers). We can predict whether an individual will change their behavior better than they themselves can predict. We can predict whether one advertising campaign will be more successful than another. We can also predict whether seeing a movie trailer will be followed by sharing that information with others over Facebook. We are now extending this to examine the effects cross culturally and whether we can reproduce the same effects using function near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) which is a lightweight portable alternative to fMRI.

Affect Labeling and Emotion Regulation.
When people put their feelings into words, it can have the effect of soothing those same emotions. We study a version of this kind of emotion regulation that we call Affect Labeling (e.g. labeling your own affect or labeling something emotional out in the world). We have found that affect labeling tends to increase activity in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and diminish activity in the amygdala and other limbic regions. Affect labeling looks a lot like other kinds of emotion regulation, but people typically do not realize that affect labeling affects their experience so we think of it as a kind of Implicit Emotion Regulation. We are engaged in basic science studies to better understand affect labeling - to understand why and how it works. We also are involved in several clinical collaborations to examine how affect labeling may play a role in the health benefits of expressive writing and as a treatment component for anxiety disorders like spider phobia and PTSD.

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