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Anxiety Disorders



Anxiety disorders are a leading source of human suffering. These disorders first emerge early in life, are extremely common, and are often resist treatment, underscoring the importance of understanding the mechanisms that confer vulnerability and resilience. The aim of this project is to characterize the neural mechanisms that support the interplay of three well-established risk factors for the development of anxiety disorders: dispositional anxiety, stress, and aberrant processing of threat-related social cues. In effect, we aim to understand how anxious traits and states interact to influence the perception of emotional stimuli in a way that promotes the avoidant and inhibited behavioral profile characteristic of many anxious individuals. Importantly, this study will afford an opportunity to assess how moment-to-moment variation in the activity of key brain regions, such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and amygdala, predicts social behaviors in the scanner, and to test whether individual differences in the activity of these regions predicts key aspects of behavior in daily life, indexed using experience sampling methods. This study will also provide a unique opportunity to assess relations between valence-sensitive measures of emotional expression (corrugator electromyography), which are routinely employed in psychophysiology laboratories, and concurrent brain activity. Clinically, this study promises to enhance our understanding of how emotional traits and states modulate risk, facilitate the discovery of novel endophenotypes and biomarkers, and set the stage for developing improved interventions. From a basic psychological science perspective, this research begins to address fundamental questions about the nature of personality and the interplay of emotion and cognition.

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