Department of Psychological Science
What We Aspire to Achieve
The members of the UVM Department of Psychological Science aspire to achieve national and international distinction built upon excellent teaching, research and clinical experiences, a student-scholar focused mentoring program, and a faculty actively engaged in research and scholarship across the domains of clinical, developmental, social, and biobehavioral psychology.
If you are an undergraduate, please visit our Student Opportunities webpage if you are interested in getting involved in conducting a research study.
The goal of my research is to understand the basic mechanisms of learning, memory, and emotion that are represented in classical conditioning, one of the most fundamental examples of associative learning that we know. I have been especially interested in extinction and other inhibitory processes in learning and memory, and how "contexts," or cues that are present in the background whenever learning and remembering occur, control them. In classical conditioning, the context can include external cues provided by the setting or environment, the internal state created by drugs, emotions, recent events, and even the passage of time. Members of my lab and I study all of these things. I am especially interested in:
- the implications of our findings for theories of conditioning and associative learning, theories of memory, and theories of certain clinical issues, such as relapse after therapy.
- the brain mechanisms behind our effects.
- learning itself, which I see as the essential process by which humans and animals adapt to the environment during their lives.
Research in the Falls laboratory examines the behaviors, neurotransmitters and neural circuits that are involved in both the elicitation and reduction of fear and anxiety. We accomplish this by combining procedures of animal learning with the techniques of behavioral neuroscience and behavioral genetics. Specific questions include:
- What are the neural systems underlying the interaction of fear and anxiety?
- What are the neural correlates of the anxiolytic effects of voluntary exercise?
- How does voluntary exercise increase memory and is this related to the anxiolytic effect of exercise?
My research interests are in the neurobiology of learning and memory. I am interested in both the neural and the psychological mechanisms underlying learned behaviors. More specifically, my lab has used eyeblink classical conditioning as a model system for examining learning and the functions of the cerebellum in both the intact brain and in rat models of human clinical conditions. The basic eyeblink conditioning procedure is well-understood at both the behavioral and the neural levels and provides an excellent laboratory model of associative learning. Eyeblink conditioning lends itself to the experimental study of learning and brain-behavior relationships because the learned response, an eye blink to a previously neutral stimulus, is easily measureable and quantifiable.
In addition to work on the cerebellum and eyeblink conditioning, my lab has begun examining the contributions of the striatum to learning. Techniques used in my laboratory include eyeblink classical conditioning, maze learning, single-unit neurophysiology, intracranial drug infusions, and quantitative neuroanatomy.
My current research interests include:
- what role does the cerebellum play in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder?
- what are the effects of voluntary exercise on cerebellum-dependent and striatum-dependent learning?
- what is the role of the cerebellar cortex in eyeblink classical conditioning?
My research interests involve understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of stress, emotion and resilience. I use a variety of techniques to investigate these mechanisms, which include assessing conditioned and unconditioned fear and anxiety, pharmacological manipulations, neuroanatomical techniques, molecular, and intracellular electrophysiological techniques. I am particularly interested in the involvement of serotonin and stress-related neuropeptides in mediating the behavioral consequences of exposure to stressful stimuli, as well as the neurochemical changes mediating stress-resilience (for example, why does exercise reduce anxiety and make you more resilient in the face of stressors). Specific questions include:
- What is the role of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) in mediating fear/anxiety behaviors, and how does it accomplish this role?
- How do brain areas that mediate fear/anxiety behaviors (such as the BNST) respond to serotonin, and is the response to serotonin altered by inescapable stress, chronic stress, or exercise?
- What are the roles of pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in mediating the behavioral and physiological consequences of stressor exposure?
- How does exercise alter brain circuits that mediate fear/anxiety behaviors?
I am interested in sex differences and sex hormone effects on emotional learning and anxiety behavior, and in the development of animal models of endocrine-related psychopathologies including post-traumatic stress disorder and post-partum depression. In my lab we use methodology that includes: discrimination fear-learning, acoustic startle, intracranial drug and hormone infusion, in situ hybridization, immunocytochemistry, to explore these subjects at all stages from the behavioral down to the system and molecular levels.
Clinical Training Program
My research interests center on the interplay of normal and abnormal development, especially across adolescence and the transition to young adult life. I am specifically interested in relations between competence (e.g., academic success, social relationships, and work success) and broad dimensions of psychopathology (e.g., internalizing and externalizing problems). Consistent with a developmental psychopathology perspective, my research emphasizes the interplay of multiple risk factors at multiple levels of analysis, and processes related to both resilience (positive adaptation despite adversity) as well as more maladaptive outcomes. Current projects include:
- identifying links between social competence, academic competence, and psychopathology over time.
- examining the stability of psychopathology from adolescence to young adulthood.
- examining the role of psychosocial maturity in moderating relationships between life stress and competence.
Antonio Cepeda-Benito is well known for his research on the behavioral and neurological impact of exposure to pharmacological agents such as morphine, nicotine and cocaine. He has used both experimental and survey-based methods to understand addictive behavior, in many instances in cross-cultural and multi-ethnic populations. His research connects the disciplines of behavioral neuroscience and clinical psychology to investigate drug addiction and eating disorders.
My research focuses on family stress (e.g., parent depression, interparental conflict) and child psychosocial adjustment. I am particularly interested in parenting prevention efforts to enhance child adjustment in the context of family stress. I am currently completing an NIMH project involving the prevention of child mental health problems when a parent has experienced depression.
My research is geared toward better understanding the social, academic, and self-system functioning of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) from a developmental psychopathology perspective. Of note, most of my research is designed with the end goal of applying what is learned toward developing better evidence-based treatments for children with ADHD. My current research program involves studies in several areas:
- mechanisms of self-concept in children with ADHD.
- evidence-based treatment of childhood ADHD.
- peer relationship problems of children with ADHD.
- parental beliefs and characteristics as predictors of treatment response in children with ADHD.
- effects of physical activity on school functioning in children.
My research focuses on creating innovative strategies to expand the reach of clinical care for victims of traumatic events and those suffering from anxiety disorders. To achieve this goal, my lab uses a translational framework in which we first identify fundamental mechanisms of treatment response for evidence-based interventions. These findings are then used to develop and evaluate novel interventions delivered through widely available technologies (e.g. mobile devices, remote sensors, websites).
I am especially interested in treatments that can be administered in acute care settings (e.g. Emergency Departments, Trauma Centers) to reduce distress shortly after trauma exposure. This research is multidisciplinary by nature and my team collaborates regularly with experts across a wide range of fields including computer science, bioinformatics, human factors, health services, nursing, medicine, and neuroscience.
My laboratory will explore the following:
- Understand biological and social factors that promote psychological recovery after exposure to a trauma.
- Evaluate interventions that are delivered via personal technology (e.g. mobile devices) to facilitate physical and psychological recovery after a trauma.
- Understand critical factors related to the adoption and continued use of technology-based mental health interventions.
My laboratory focuses on the study of sexual function and dysfunction in men and women. We have a state of the art psychophysiological equipment to assess genital engorgement, heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance and behavioral responses during audio and visual stimuli. My students and I are currently investigating a number of topics, including the following:
- The effect of emotional states on the sexual response.
- Emotion regulation and sexual behavior/functioning in young adults.
- Predictors of sexual revictimization in adults with a history of childhood sexual abuse.
- The mediational effects of estrogen and androgens levels on sexual desire in women taking different types of hormonal contraception.
- Natural changes in catecholamines following different stages of love and the effects these have on female sexual responses.
- Cortisol responses to sexual stimuli in women with a history of childhood sexual abuse.
Our studies are conducted in the spirit of translational science, meaning that results from these basic science studies are integrated into treatments. Currently, my laboratory is working on the development of two treatments, one targeting women with female sexual arousal disorder and a second treatment specifically for the sexual dysfunction of women with a history of childhood sexual abuse.
My primary research interests are the psychopathology and treatment of adult mood disorders, including:
- cognitive-behavioral models of depression onset, maintenance, and recurrence.
- cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression.
- subtypes of recurrent depression including seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and menstrual distress.
- secondary research interests in the role of the menstrual cycle in the onset and maintenance of anxiety in women.
My major interests encompass three areas:
- Stigma and Coping with Chronic Illness
- Racism, Bias and Oppression
- Clinical Training and Curriculum Transformation
The Person Environment Zone (PEZ) Projects are directed by myself and Dr. Carol T. Miller. The mission of the PEZ Projects is to build a research program that fosters a culturally enlightened and scientifically sound understanding of stigma, prejudice, discrimination, resilience and coping with an eye towards promoting healthy behaviors. The intention is to design and execute high quality scientifically precise research which reflects the needs of the research, academic and human community. One of the PEZ Projects, currently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is testing a theoretical model that examines the vulnerability of people with HIV/AIDS to stigma, the way in which they cope with stigma, and the level and form of community prejudice and discrimination that is expressed toward people with HIV/AIDS. I am also interested in exploring the effects of early onset and late onset stigmatizing attributes (e.g., facial distinctions, physical disability, etc.) on healthy behaviors and psychological well-being.
My research is focused on factors that are associated with developing serious emotional and behavioral problems in childhood and adolescence from a developmental psychopathology perspective. In particular, I am interested in factors that put children at risk for antisocial and aggressive behavior. My research is aimed at increased understanding of how these problems develop and in applying this knowledge to improve assessment, prevention, and treatment of the problems. I also have interests in program evaluation and research methodology. Among the projects currently active in my lab are:
- a study examining how a callous unemotional traits affect the development and expression of conscience in juvenile offenders and community control youth.
- a study examining the association between aggression and heightened emotional arousal among female juvenile offenders. We are particularly interested in how the many interacting causal factors leading to antisocial behavior may be different for girls than for boys. This study examines some hypotheses about those gender differences.
- a study examining whether an intervention improves fear recognition and empathy among juvenile offenders with callous unemotional traits.
- a study examining links among trauma, psychopathic traits, and substance use among youth.
- several projects related to measurement and research methodology, including evaluation of a study of a jail diversion project for justice system involved individuals with history of trauma, mental health, and/or substance use problems.
My research investigates the complex processes through which parents contribute to children's development, with a particular focus on parents' contributions to children's stress reactivity, coping, and psychopathology. Drawing from the theoretical framework of developmental psychopathology, my research seeks to account for why children who are exposed to similar parenting experiences follow diverse developmental pathways. I am also interested in the factors that contribute to parenting styles and behaviors over time. I primarily explore these topics in the context of children's exposure to stressful life events, such as peer victimization.
In my laboratory at UVM, I plan to investigate:
- cognitive, affective, and behavioral mechanisms through which parent socialization contributes to children's responses to stress and psychopathology.
- parents' contributions to physiological reactivity to stress.
- ways that characteristics of the child, parent, and context predict parenting behaviors, such as socialization of coping.
My research focuses on gender differences in children and adolescents' social development, with an emphasis on the development of aggressive behavior. Specifically, my work explores forms of aggression more common among girls (i.e., relational aggression) in addition to forms more typical in boys (i.e., physical aggression). Relational aggression, defined as behaviors that harm others through the manipulation of interpersonal relationships, includes malicious gossip, giving others the "silent treatment," or threatening to end a friendship. I hope that this research will inform intervention work targeting at-risk girls. My current interests include:
- investigating the maladaptive social (e.g., rejection by peers) and mental health (e.g., internalizing symptoms) consequences of involvement in relational and physical aggression.
- exploring physiological (e.g., blood pressure reactivity to provocation), cognitive (e.g., moral reasoning), and social (e.g., friendship qualities; childhood maltreatment) contributors to physically and relationally aggressive conduct.
- examining how the risk factors and outcomes of physical and relational aggression differ for boys and girls.
- studying how aggression develops in the context of close relationships, such as friendships and enemy relationships.
My research interests are in the area of developmental psychopathology, and focus on associations between exposure to stressors like interparental conflict and children’s socio-emotional development and adjustment. My research focuses on identifying which children are at greatest risk when exposed to stress. My research also seeks to identify mechanisms underlying the stress-adjustment problems relationship. In addition, my research examines transactional associations between stress and child behavior.
In my laboratory at UVM, I plan to investigate:
- temperament, to identify which children are at greatest risk in the context of stress.
- mechanisms that can account for associations between stress and child adjustment, such as neural processes and cortisol reactivity.
- transactional processes, including whether children exacerbate (or even alleviate) stress in their environments.
I am interested in how people who are stigmatized (devalued) by society cope with the prejudice and discrimination they face. I also study factors that promote or inhibit claims of prejudice by stigmatized people and the expression of prejudice by nonstigmatized people. Examples of current research includes studies of:
- how people with HIV/AIDS cope with the stigma of this illness.
- the relationship of community attitudes toward people with HIV/AIDS and perceptions of stigma by people with HIV/AIDS who live in those communities.
- what explains the negative reactions that people have to a stigmatized person (an African American) who says he or she was discriminated against even when the complaint is very justified.
- what influences whether women actively confront sexist behavior in their social interactions.
Broadly speaking, her research investigates how individual difference factors interact with situational factors to affect intergroup contexts, educational and healthcare settings, and people's sense of belonging and psychological well-being. She uses multiple methods (including lab and online experiments, and longitudinal studies) and measures (including implicit and explicit) to identify the basic cognitive, motivational, and perceptual processes that explain the links between individual difference factors, situational factors, and behavior.
With her current work, she is investigating (a) the mechanisms that attenuate and exacerbate individuals’ sense of academic fit and well-being, and (b) whether there are individual differences in peoples' awareness of their tendencies to display subtle bias against outgroup members (or bias awareness). Specifically, she is investigating how bias awareness develops, and the implications of bias awareness for prejudice reduction, intergroup contact, and health disparities.
I conduct research on the interface between individual experience and the socially constructed nature of reality. This focus emerges in my three main lines of inquiry: stigmatization, the self in relationships, and coping. Together with a team of collaborators, I am currently investigating:
- the role that self-consciousness with regard to one's stigmatized status plays in rendering targets of stigma vulnerable to the widely held (and often quite negative) beliefs about members of their group.
- the magnetism that results from encounters that validate one's subjective experience. My research team and I study this question as it pertains both to interpersonal relationships and to intergroup relationships.
- how implicit and explicit messages that one's plight "could have been worse" interrupt the coping process, even when they get delivered in the spirit of offering help.
Human Behavioral Pharmacology Program
My research interests lie mostly in the measurement and manipulation of behavior. Over the years I have studied behavior and behavior change in a variety of species from rats and pigeons to exotic animals to humans. Currently my research focuses on the use of behavioral economic principles to motivate health-related behavior change in disadvantaged populations. Of specific interest is substance use in pregnant or recently postpartum women.
Drug abuse treatments for pregnant and postpartum women, including behavioral treatments such as contingency management and pharmacological treatments such as opioid replacement therapies.
My research interests represent a blend of treatment-outcome and clinical-laboratory research focused on elucidating behavioral and pharmacological processes involved in substance use disorders and their treatment. I currently pursue these interests in two research clinics where I investigate novel treatments for cocaine dependence and cigarette smoking during pregnancy and a clinical laboratory where I am investigating how a period of initial smoking abstinence facilitates longer-term abstinence. Each of these projects mentioned is supported through research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and I also supervise a NIDA-funded institutional training grant that supports predoctoral and postdoctoral training in drug abuse research.
Clinical, laboratory and epidemiological studies on tobacco cessation and on marijuana cessation. I have two NIH grants to study
- what daily events prompt cigarette smokers to decide to quit
- what methods daily marijuana users employ when they try to quit and how helpful are they
- whether stopping smoking makes smokers anhedonic; i.e. they enjoy pleasures less
- whether continuing medication after a smoker relapses helps them re-establish abstinence
Behavioral and pharmacological treatment of opioid dependence; Novel formulations of pharmacotherapies for opioid dependence; Smoking cessation among opioid-dependent patients using a behavioral approach; Laboratory models for understanding the interactions between stimulant medications, including nicotine, cocaine, d-amphetamine and methylphenidate; Behavioral treatments of substance use/abuse among individuals with serious mental illness.
Last modified September 22 2014 02:56 PM