Research Themes

The Influence of Rewarding Stimuli on Stress Responding

A small body of work in animals and humans has found that rewarding stimuli can lead to changes in physiological and neuroendocrine responses to stress. For this line of work, I am investigating the extent of this effect--what types of rewards can buffer stress responding? For how long? For what sorts of stress responding outcomes? Additionally, I am using fMRI to identify the neural mechanisms for how this stress resilience may occur and how this mechanism might support future stress management interventions.

The Neural Mechanisms of Behavioral Interventions for Health

Individuals are increasingly turning to complementary and behavioral interventions for improving their health. Mindfulness meditation, writing interventions and others have been demonstrated to reduce stress and alter physical health markers such as inflammation. One aim of my work is to explore the neural mechanisms for the health benefits of these interventions. For example, how does mindfulness meditation alter the way we respond to stress, and does that lead to improvements in physical health? Here, I have recently been focusing on these interventions in the context of a stressful breast cancer diagnosis, using fMRI to explore the neural mechanisms for observed health and well-being benefits.

The Neural Mechanisms of Self-Affirmation

Self-affirmation, or the process of reflecting on important personal values, has been shown to lead to a wide range of benefits including reduced stress responding, improved performance, and reduced negative effects of stereotype threat. This impressive set of effects is beginning to move outside of the laboratory and into applied settings and field studies. However, the mechanism for self-affirmation is not yet clear. My goal is to use fMRI to understand how self-affirmation could have such benefits in the context of a variety of threats.