We examine how genetic variation and environmental experience contribute to individual differences in brain function, behavior, and psychopathology. We are particularly interested in understanding how differences emerge in reward and threat processing, as well as stress responsiveness, and the role of these factors in the development of psychopathology. We use a variety of methods including molecular genetics, fMRI, EEG/ERP, pharmacologic challenge, twin studies, behavioral and biomarker assessment, as well as self-report in both healthy and clinical populations.
Dysfunction within threat and reward processing, as well as stress responsiveness, has been implicated in nearly every major form of psychopathology. Despite the identification of many risk factors (e.g., stress, cognitive biases, genetic variation) that are associated with these domains of dysfunction, the underlying etiologic mechanisms remain poorly understood. To gain biologically meaningful insight into this relationship, one approach is to study how variability arises in brain circuitry critical to behavioral expression. Our research integrates genetics, neuroscience, and experimental psychology in an attempt to link genetic variation and environmental experience to variability in protein expression and function; brain function, structure, and connectivity; and, behavior and mental illness. At a broad level, our research program has etiologic implications for our understanding of how stress and genetic variation contribute to psychopathology. It has the potential to inform not only who may be at risk, but also the neurobiological mechanisms through which this risk arises. The ultimate objective of this research program is to expand our understanding of how individual differences in behavior arise to contribute to the improvement of psychiatric nosology, treatments, and preventative efforts.