Whether it is holding back tears after a disappointing rejection, saying no to that second cookie, or getting up early to go to the gym, regulating one's emotions and behavior is a challenging task. In the Social and Affective Neuroscience (SAN) lab, we examine emotion and self-regulation using both behavioral and biological (e.g., neural responses, heart rate) methods in developmental and adult populations.
In our lab, we primarily focus on the influence of emotions and their regulation on action and behavior. This involves examining emotion at every step of the process - how it is represented in the brain, how it is verbally labelled, when/if individuals recognize the need for it to be regulated, and how one's emotional experience influences subsequent judgment and decision-making.
Research in our lab has found that multiple factors contribute to an individual's emotional experience, their ability to regulate it, and their behavior. Using neuroimaging methods (fMRI) we have found that children and adults have similar mental representations of positive and negative emotional experiences in areas of the brain involved in emotional evaluation but differ in areas implicated in identifying self-relevance and meaningfulness. In other work, we found that one's role in an interpersonal conflict (as either the person who caused harm or was on the receiving end of it) is associated with differences in negative emotion, and subsequently, memory for the event. Taken together, this indicates that emotional experience is not generated in a vacuum - it can be meaningfully impacted by both individual differences (e.g., one's developmental stage) and one's social context.
To examine these kinds of questions, we utilize functional neuroimaging methods coupled with an emphasis on naturalistic study design. Using fMRI, we can non-invasively examine neural activity as individuals do things like watch movies or TV shows that evoke intense emotional experiences and empathetic responses. Outside of the scanner, we have collaborated extensively with the Adaptive Memory Lab (PI: Vishnu Murty) to examine emotion and its regulation in the context of Eastern State Penitentiary's annual haunted house.
Ongoing work in our lab is examining the types of emotion regulation strategies individuals use in naturalistic contexts, what emotions underlie the feeling of being more or less "certain" about a situation and its outcome, and how regulating emotion may make the interpersonal feedback process more constructive.
The primary aim of our research is to better understand how individuals construct, experience, and regulate their emotions, with the long-term aim of identifying ways in which individuals can develop and maintain a healthy relationship with their emotions in order to improve individual and interpersonal mental health outcomes. Our work would not be possible without a wonderful team of PhD students, undergraduate research assistants, and particularly, the individuals who volunteer to participate in our research. Check out our website for more information!