University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Psychological Science

Department of Psychological Science Colloquia

Every year the Department of Psychological Science hosts a variety of colloquia in which distinguished national and international scholars visit UVM to discuss their research. Our colloquia are open to all, though some require prior registration due to limited seating.

Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D.

Stacey Sigmon Research Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Director, Chittenden Center
Department of Psychiatry
University of Vermont College of Medicine
Parametric Evaluation of Buprenorphine Taper Duration for Prescription Opioid Abuse
May 14, 2010

Despite alarming increases in abuse of prescription opioids (PO) such oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), little is known about effective treatments. Some initial data suggest that PO abusers may be less severe than heroin abusers and may avoid maintenance therapies due to the stigma associated with them. Thus, while extended agonist maintenance may eventually be deemed necessary, it is important to know if a meaningful subset of PO abusers may not require long-term maintenance, especially for younger and/or less severe patients.

We have recently completed a NIDA-funded, 12-week randomized clinical trial evaluating brief outpatient buprenorphine taper for treating PO abusers. PO-dependent outpatients (N=70) received brief buprenorphine stabilization and random assignment to a 1-, 2- or 4-week taper, followed by oral naltrexone maintenance for those who successfully tapered. All received double-blind, double-dummy medication administration, intensive behavioral therapy and staff-observed collection of urine specimens for on-site urine toxicology testing.

Outcome data suggest that the 4-week taper produces striking improvements over the briefer tapers that are largely sustained after transition to naltrexone. These 4-week taper outcomes are 2-3 fold better than those seen in prior studies of outpatient BUP detoxification. More specifically, success rates have averaged 24% immediately following BUP taper in previous studies (Becker et al., 2001; Ling et al., 2005, 2009; Woody et al., 2008; Wright et al., 2007) compared to our present success rates of 64% at end of taper and 50% 8 weeks after the end of the taper.

Taken together, our results suggest that a meaningful subset of PO abusers may respond to a 4-week outpatient BUP taper. Future research should further extend this parametric investigation of buprenorphine taper duration for this important clinical population.

Supported by: NIDA R01 DA019989 and T32 DA007242

Paul Whalen, Ph.D.

Paul Whalen Associate Professor
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Dartmouth College
Dennis Repole Memorial Lecture
Human Neuroimaging Studies of Facial Expression and their Implications for Normal and Pathological Anxiety
April 29, 2010

Non-human animal neuroscience research has offered much information concerning the circuitry involved in the acquisition and expression of conditioned responses to events that predict biologically-relevant outcomes. The obvious strength of this work lies in its ability to assert control over a given subject’s reinforcement history. But human volunteers come to our studies with a reinforcement history of their own. Given that human faces constitute a rich source of predictive social information, we present our human subjects with pictures of facial expressions of emotion with the assumption that the past predictive value of these expressions will command the respect of circuits involved in the acquisition and/or expression of biologically-relevant learning.

In this talk, I will show how the use of pictures of facial expressions as experimental stimuli has informed our understanding of normal social, emotional functioning. In addition, we will see that facial expressions also evoke activity through a prefrontal-amygdala circuit that, when compromised, is hypothesized to play a role in the breakdown of emotional regulation prevalent in mood and anxiety disorders.

Stephen Hinshaw, Ph.D.

Stephen Hinshaw Chair and Professor
Psychology Department
University of California-Berkeley
Hosted by the McNeil Prevention and Community Psychology Fund
Adolescent Girls, Mental Health, and Social Stress: Implications for Prevention
April 9, 2010

It's the best time in history to be a girl: college admissions, athletic scholarships, and professional success are at all-time high levels. But these opportunities are, tragically, matched by disturbing trends: the age of onset for serious depression in females is dropping; preteen and teen girls' rates of suicide, cutting, binge eating, and aggression are rising. Despite clear biological/genetic risk for these severe problems, the disturbing trends in their prevalence are too recent to be explained by biological forces alone.

This talk discusses a highly pressured, sexualized set of cultural expectations for girls--a 'triple bind' of pressures to be nurturing, competitive, and effortlessly successful and sexual--that may be at play. Featured are solutions regarding the promotion of resilience in all of our teens.

Christopher Danforth, Ph.D.
Peter Dodds, Ph.D.

Christopher Danforth

Peter Dodds
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
University of Vermont
The Hedonometer: A Remote Sensor of Global Happiness
December 4, 2009

The importance of quantifying the nature and intensity of emotional states at the level of populations is evident: we would like to know how individuals feel so that we may improve public policy, build more successful organizations, and more fully understand economic and social phenomena. Using human evaluation of the valence of roughly 1000 words, we analyze a diverse set of texts which reflect human experience including millions of weblogs and billions of status updates from Twitter.

Among numerous observations we will present, we find that expressed happiness rises and falls with age and distance from the Earth's equator; the 2008 Presidential Election was the happiest day in the blogosphere in the last 4 years; Twitter users' status updates show a clear circadian cycle and increase in happiness in the manner of a phase transition as a function of the number of others listed as following them; and two-person interactions show strong evidence of emotional reciprocation.

Hugh Garavan, Ph.D.

Hugh Garavan School of Psychology
Institute of Neuroscience
Trinity College, Dublin
The Neurobiology of Cognitive Control and its Role in Addiction
November 6, 2009

This talk will summarise the results of a number of neuroimaging studies on executive functions, that is, those cognitive processes involved in controlling behaviour. Specific focus will be placed on inhibitory control and performance monitoring. The evidence suggests that control processes can be dissociated neuroanatomically. These findings provide a foundation for studying individual differences in control and for studying clinical conditions such as addiction which are typically characterised by deficits in behavioural control.

Michael Otto, Ph.D.

Michael Otto Professor of Psychology
Boston University
Novel Combination Therapy: Memory Enhancers in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
October 2, 2009

Despite the individual achievements of pharmacotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in offering efficacious treatment for anxiety disorders, the expectation that the combination of these modalities will provide a particularly powerful treatment has met with disappointment. In the context of these disappointing results, a novel strategy for combining pharmacotherapy and CBT has emerged.

Rather than being applied as an anxiolytic in its own right, pharmacotherapy has been applied as a strategy to enhance the retention of the therapeutic learning provided by exposure-based CBT. This approach is an outgrowth of basic research on the brain circuitry underlying fear learning and extinction that identified d-cycloserine (DCS), a partial agonist of the NMDA receptor, as an agent capable of enhancing extinction learning.

In this presentation, Dr. Otto will review findings to date on the efficacy of combined CBT and DCS for the anxiety disorders. The efficacy and limits of this approach will be discussed, along with the potential of other novel combination treatment strategies.