Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience Lab

Directors: Scott Rauch, MD and William "Scott" Killgore, PhD

Neurobiological Basis of Emotional Intelligence

This study uses functional and structural brain imaging techniques to isolate the brain networks that are critical to adaptive coping, resilience, and emotional intelligence (EQ).  EQ is the ability to accurately perceive and identify emotions in oneself and others, and to understand, use, and manage these emotions to enhance cognitive processes, decision-making, mental health, and social functioning.  It has been suggested that in some cases, these emotional skills and attributes may contribute as much or more to an individual’s ultimate success at work, school, or social pursuits than the more commonly known aspects of cognitive intelligence or “IQ.”  Despite growing appreciation for the importance that emotional intelligence plays in mental health, resilience, and general life success, there is little known about the underlying brain processes associated with these abilities.

Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effects on Depressive Cognitions and Brain Function

The aim of this study is to understand the effectiveness of an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) treatment on improving depressive symptoms, coping and resilience skills, and cognitive processing. In this study, individuals with major depressive disorder will be assessed before and after a 10-week course of iCBT.  Identifying and mapping the brain systems before and after treatment may help researchers guide future attempts to implement iCBT as a large-scale option for treating individuals with depression.

Bright Light Therapy to Improve Sleep following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

The present study examines the efficacy of Bright Light Therapy in improving cognitive functioning, mood and sleep in individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury. We employ functional magnetic resonance imaging as well as diffusion tensor imaging to evaluate brain function and structure before and after a six-week course of light therapy. The goal of this line of research is both to evaluate the effectiveness of this therapy as well as to understand the effects of axonal damage on cognitive and emotional functioning in traumatic brain injury.

Brain Function, and Structure, and Genes in Pediatric Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The objectives of this study are to combine functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and genotyping of risk genes in a cross-sectional study of youth with OCD. Specifically, the aims are: (1) To examine functional activation in the regions implicated in OCD (orbitofrontal cortex, striatum, insula), using three fMRI paradigms: a visuospatial priming task, a task-switching task, and an implicit facial affect recognition task, (2) To examine the relationship between brain structure and OCD-susceptibility genotypes in OCD subjects and healthy individuals. We are collecting anatomical and diffusion tensor imaging data, as well as specific allele and haplotype information in previously identified gene susceptibility regions. Individuals will be grouped based on risk genotypes and the risk groups will be compared in terms of regional brain structure.

Magnetic resonance spectroscopy of brain GABA and glutamate metabolism in PTSD

This work uses a neuroimaging technology called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to quantify levels of the brain chemicals glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Rather than recovering emotionally, individuals with PTSD continue to experience debilitating fear and emotional dysregulation long after the trauma has ended. These persistent symptoms are thought to be due to hyperexcitability of limbic brain regions that mediate emotional arousal, along with hypoexcitability of brain regions that regulate emotional responses. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter and glutamate the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Both have crucial roles in regulating neuronal excitability. We are implementing reliable, non-invasive 1H-MRS methods that allow us to quantify GABA and glutamate in brain regions central to PTSD pathophysiology. 

Neuropredictors of cognitive resilience to sleep loss

Our lab is the first to combine multimodal neuroimaging techniques such as functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, resting state functional connectivity and MR spectroscopy to attempt to clarify why some individuals are coping well with sleep loss, while others are vulnerable to insufficient sleep. This study will therefore clarify the role of brain regions such as the medial prefrontal cortex in sleep deprivation and cognitive resilience to sleep loss.  Findings from this study could be used to identify brain regions that using behavioral or pharmacological interventions may specifically be targeted to increase performance in the context of insufficient sleep (e.g., military operations).

Neurocorrelates of cognitive and emotional health following mild traumatic brain injury

This study will combine the MR imaging techniques diffusion tensor imaging and resting state functional connectivity to investigate neurocorrelates of cognitive and psychological health in 150 individuals with mild traumatic brain injury at different recovery stages (i.e., two weeks, one month, two months, six months, 12 months) compared to 30 healthy controls. Findings from this study will be used to inform a preliminary model regarding the relationship between white matter integrity and neuropsychological functioning following mild traumatic brain injury. 

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