Research in Yale’s Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab takes a cognitive-neuroscience approach to clinical questions, uses state-of-the-art neuroimaging methods, and organizes around a few interrelated themes:
Craving: We try to understand the human experience of craving – the desire we feel for food, alcohol, drugs, and even another peak at our cell phones. We focus especially on how the brain instantiates craving, gender and individual differences in craving, and on how they arise in the context of substance use disorders – addictions – in which craving is often uncontrollable and can lead to particularly negative outcomes (e.g., death from smoking).
Regulation of craving: We study the ways in which adolescents and adults with or without addictions can use strategies to regulate craving for food and drugs. We are currently exploring which strategies work better in the moment vs. long term, gender and individual differences in strategy choice and efficacy, and how the brain implements different kinds of strategies (e.g., cognitive strategies, distraction, and mindful-acceptance). We are also investigating the effects of stress on both craving and the regulation of craving.
Neural mechanisms of change: Although treatments are available for substance use disorders, they are often ineffective. We are using a combination of self-report, physiological, and neuroimaging methods applied both before and after treatment to 1) try to predict treatment outcome and 2) understand the mechanisms of change over time for successful vs. unsuccessful treatment. The long-term goal is to understand individual differences in cognition, emotion, and underlying neural activity and use then them to improve treatment as well as ‘match’ individuals to the treatment best-suited for them.
Emotion regulation in psychopathology: Some projects in the lab explore broader emotion-regulation processes in various forms of psychopathology including substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
Mindfulness and meditation: We use this two-pronged operational definition of mindfulness: 1. Attention to whatever is happening in any given moment, coupled with 2. An attitude of acceptance towards this experience (Bishop et al 2004). Research has shown that mindfulness training improves attention, reduces stress, and relieves depression. In our research, we address how mindfulness can be used to treat substance use disorders, reduce craving, and improve well-being – with a focus on understanding how mindfulness works in terms of its neural mechanisms. For that, we use fMRI to study the effects of short-term mindfulness training, mindfulness-based treatments, and long-term meditators.
Miscellaneous interests and projects: We also do other cool things relating to reward, motivation, cognitive control, and cognition-emotion interaction, especially in the context of substance use disorders.