Research Projects

The BRAIN Group at the University of Miami seeks to understand how behavior and brain function are different in adults and children with and without anxiety disorders.  Our research studies involve a variety of different methodologies, including brain imaging, computer tasks, interviews, and psychophysiology measures.  We hope that our research will help create better treatments for people with anxiety disorders.

Emotional Flexibility

sad to happy imageChildren and adolescents must utilize flexible thoughts, emotions and behaviors to adapt to drastic changes in their mental, physical, emotional and social environments throughout development. To date, most studies examine cognitive flexibility by measuring task-switching and set-shifting abilities. Cognitive inflexibility, detected as increased switch costs and/or neural perturbations during these tasks, has been linked to various mental health disorders in adults (e.g., Remijnse et al., 2013) and children (e.g., Britton et al., 2010). However, affective flexibility, the ability to switch between emotional and non-emotional content (e.g., Malooly et al., 2013), and valence flexibility, i.e., flexibility to switch between emotions, is understudied. Additionally, flexibility is required in everyday life without instruction to initiate changes and generate alternatives. 

Several projects aim to understand the behavioral and neural correlates of emotional flexibility across development. Additionally, we aim to understand the relationship between emotional flexibility and internalizing symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depressed mood).

Cognitive vs. Emotional Flexibility and Executive Functions
The goal of this work aims to understand the common and distinct behavioral and neural correlates of cognitive and affective flexibility as well as other executive functions (e.g., working memory, response inhibition). 
Development of Emotional Flexibility
The goal of this work is to understand how different types of affective and valence flexibility change across development. Both behavioral and neural measures are investigated.
Flexibility and Stability
The goal of this work is to understand the relationship between flexibility and stability in the context of emotional task-switching tasks.‌
Flexibility and Emotion Regulation
The goal of this work is to understand how flexibility relates to emotion and physiological regulation.
COVID-19: Risk and Resilience 
The goal of this work is to understand how flexibility may help exacerbate or prevent internalizing symptoms. 
Behavioral, Physiological and Neural Flexibility
The goal of this work aims to understand the how different indices of flexibility relate to one another.

Threat, Safety and Avoidance

Fear imageIndividuals with anxiety often report being afraid and avoid situations where they anticipate being afraid. One goal of exposure therapy is to reduce the anxiety and avoidance of objects and situations that evoke these inappropriate fear responses. Using extinction-related principles, individuals with anxiety learn over time that the object or situation is safe rather than threatening. In addition, individuals must recall this safety association outside of the clinic to overcome their anxiety when encountering their fears in the real-world.

Several projects aim to understand how individuals learn or classify an object or situation as safe or threatening, explore mechanisms underlying avoidance behavior, and investigate how threat influences perception, cognition, and behaviors.

Fear conditioning, extinction and extinction recall
The goal of this work is to delineate the neural circuitry mediating fear and safety learning in normal and pathological development.
The goal of this work is to understand the relationship between anticipatory processes and behavioral avoidance.

Threat-related Attention

social threat

Attention biases towards threat have been reported in both pediatric and adult anxiety (Bar-Haim et al., 2007). Threat biases may arise through perturbations in amygdala-prefrontal circuitry (Monk et al., 2006; Monk et al., 2008; Britton et al., 2012). In addition, Attention Bias Modification Training (ABMT) may reduce anxiety symptoms. 

Several projects aim at understanding the behavioral, clinical and neural effects of attention biases and attention training.  

Psychometric Properties
The goal of this work is to develop and test computational approaches to analyze dot-probe data.
Masked vs. Overt Attention
The goal of this work is to characterize differences in threat-related attention when presented briefly or overtly. 
Stability of Attention
The goal of this work is to understand the test-retest reliability of attention related processes and the interplay between stability and flexibility.