Research Topics

A Unified Theory of Motivation 
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This research aims to build a unified theory of motivation. This theory starts with the assumption that there are fundamental human needs (e.g., physiological needs, social acceptance/belonging, competence, coherent self-identity). The brain uses negative feedback loops to detect mismatches between needs and the current state of the world, and to generate corrective actions. This theory integrates psychological models with recent advances in reinforcement learning and cybernetic control systems. 

Brain networks underlying mindful acceptance of emotions
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This research uses graph theory to understand how different brain regions communicate as a network when individuals use mindful acceptance as a way to cope with challenging feelings such as anxiety. During acceptance, parts of the brain involved in metacognitive awareness and cognitive control become more central in directing information flow (they act as 'hubs'), whereas parts of the brain involved in self-evaluative thinking and judgment become less central in directing information flow. 

The Neuroscience of meditation
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This research explores changes in brain structure and function that result from meditation training. We have conducted meta-analyses showing that meditation can lead to changes in specific brain regions such as the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex and insula which are involved in self-awareness and accurately detecting bodily sensations. 

Brain changes in social anxiety disorder
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This research examines the brain regions that function differently in individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD) than in healthy individuals. Individuals with SAD show more activation in the default mode network (DMN) during emotional reactivity and individuals with more severe SAD symptoms additionally show less engagement of frontoparietal control regions involved in emotion regulation.