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Current Projects

Active Projects

Family Promoting Positive Emotions 

With our collaborator Dr. Katie Burkhouse we are developing and piloting a novel preventive intervention aimed to enhance positive emotions and reward responsiveness in children of parents with histories of depression or anhedonia. We recently received pilot funding from the American Psychological Foundation to support this research. This work is still in the early stages, and we look forward to sharing more details soon.

Social Processing in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults: From Brain Function to Behavior

The goal of this series of studies is to develop and validate new approaches for assessing sensitivity to social reward and threat using EEG and neuroimaging. We are developing novel lab-based paradigms for measuring social processes and are working to map brain function on to real-world experiences. The hope is that these methods could be applied to better understand processes that predispose some children and adolescent to increase risk for mood and anxiety disorders and offer new targets for early intervention. This work is supported in part by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. We are also conducting several National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded collaborative projects with Dr. Dara Babinski examining brain-behavioral markers of social processing in clinical samples of adolescents.

Trajectories of Emotional Reactivity across Pregnancy 

The goal of this study, funded by the NIMH and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Kathryn Humphreys, is to assess neural (EEG/ERP), physiological (HRV), and behavioral responses to rewarding and emotionally salient stimuli across pregnancy. Understanding trajectories of change in these processes across the peripartum period has the potential to improve prediction of postpartum depression risk, and ultimately, advance understanding of the intergenerational transmission of depression.

Predicting Risk for Suicidal Behavior in Adolescents

With our collaborators Drs. Alex Bettis, Meg Benningfield, and Jenni Blackford we are completing a series of reviews of the existing literature on neural and physiological predictors of suicide risk, and we are conducting a study examining reward responsiveness and emotional reactivity as prospective predictors of suicidal behavior in adolescents following discharge from acute psychiatric treatment. We have obtained funding for pilot data collection from the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.

Neurocognitive Effects of Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome on Preschool Children

This study (in collaboration with Drs. Kathryn Humphreys and Andrew Molnar and funded by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center) seeks to examine executive functioning in children ages 3-5 with and without exposure to opioids during pregnancy, with the goal of learning more about children with prenatal opioid exposure or diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS/NOWS). We are examining measures of preschool executive functioning and behavior, including neural (EEG), and neuropsychological measures, and clinical interviews in order to better understand the impact of opioid exposure on preschool-age children and inform approaches early intervention.

Dyadic Intervention for Preschool-Age Children

This study (in collaboration with Drs. Kathryn Humphreys and Andrew Molnar) seeks to test the effectiveness of a parent-child intervention for preschool-aged children who had experienced exposure to opioids during gestation. We will examine measures of preschool executive functioning in order to investigate changes in response to the Brief Behavioral Intervention (BBI).  Parent-child dyads, including children ages 3-5 years old and their primary caregiver, will participate in 6-8 intervention sessions, followed by a post-treatment session. Following the intervention, participants will be invited to complete follow-up measures of preschool executive functioning and behavior, along with neurophysiological measures as an exploratory test of changes before and after treatment. The results of this study may lead to improved understanding of the effectiveness of BBI and similar interventions for children born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

Completed Projects

Neural Predictors of Response to Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Adolescent Depression

Depression is a prevalent disorder in adolescents and often leads to long-term impairments in functioning and risk of suicide. Although cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment, many depressed adolescents fail to respond to CBT and few established measures are available for identifying those most likely to benefit. Brain-based measures seem to be powerful predictors of treatment response. However, they have yet to be extended to adolescent depression or to more economical, easily accessible measures such as electroencephalogram (EEG). With funding from the Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation, we are conducting a study to examine neural measures of positive and negative valence systems as predictors of CBT response in adolescent depression. This project will take a step towards improved prediction of response to treatment for adolescent depression, with the ultimate aim of informing more personalized approaches to treatment and improving long-term outcomes.