The CAR lab examines cognitive and affective processes involved in the regulation of negative affect, in an effort to identify vulnerability factors for mood disorders. For example, how do people help themselves to feel better when they feel sad – and how do these processes go awry in depression?
We take a multi-method approach to examining individual differences in styles of thinking and regulating negative affect. This work involves laboratory-based measures of brain activity (using fMRI and event-related potentials), autonomic nervous system functioning (heart rate and respiration), and behavior (computer tasks and questionnaires). In addition, to understand behavior outside of the lab, we utilize ambulatory assessment to measure person-centered variability in autonomic functioning (with wearables), sleep quality (with actigraphy), affect and regulation strategies (using ecological momentary assessment), and digital phenotyping approaches to measuring behavior (using smartphone keyboard metadata with the BiAffect app, developed by collaborators at UIC).
Studying individuals over time allows us to examine questions at multiple levels of analysis. For example, we ask questions at both the between-subjects level (e.g., how do individuals differ from one another?) and at the within-subjects level (e.g., how do individuals vary over time relative to their own baseline, and in what contexts might their risk be greatest?).
By understanding the mechanisms underlying successful affect regulation, we aim to inform the development of personalized, real-time interventions to improve behavioral flexibility and regulatory success, and in doing so, to reduce risk for problems such as depression, mania, and suicide.