Stewart Shankman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
Family Study of Emotion and Emotional DisordersThe purpose of this study is to examine whether two transdiagnostic dimensions - reduced reward anticipation and heightened sensitivity to potential threat - represent risk factors for internalizing psychopathology (i.e., depression and anxiety), consistent with the NIMH's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative. To accomplish this, we are assessing reward and threat sensitivity using multiple physiological, behavioral, and self-report measures among individuals with and without emotional difficulties and their families. Psychophysiological measures include ERPs and anterior EEG asymmetry during reward processing; startle potentiation during threat; and measures of autonomic functioning (e.g., heartrate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia).If these indicators prove to be familial markers of risk for psychopathology, they will make excellent (and relatively inexpensive) laboratory targets for prevention/early intervention efforts as well as targets for treatment development studies.
Sensitivity to Reward and Threat in Depression and Panic DisorderDepression and anxiety disorders co-occur at alarmingly high rates, and co-occurring depression and anxiety are especially impairing and difficult to treat. We are therefore conducting an NIMH-funded project investigating psychophysiological markers of basic emotional processes in individuals with depression and panic disorder. With funding from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, we are also examining the neural bases of reward and threat processing in these individuals using fMRI. Ultimately, this research may identify physiological risk markers for these disorders, help explain why depression and anxiety co-occur so often, and point the way towards more effective treatment and prevention approaches.