Neuropsychological Questions

We use a combination of cognitive and behavioral measures to study the human brain and its functioning. We focus, in particular, on studying drug addiction and aggression

Neuropsychoimaging Research Pyramid

The organization of the Neuropsychoimaging of Addiction and Related Conditions (NARC) Research Program is represented by the pyramid above, with its foundation based in cognitive and behavioral measures. The complementary nature of the interrelationships between the various approaches to studying the behaving human brain is emphasized by the left-sided bi-directional arrow.

Our four overall approaches are:

We use a broad range of both computerized and paper-and-pencil measures of cognition (e.g., attention, memory, inhibitory control, decision-making), emotion and personality (e.g., anger, harm avoidance, negative emotionality), and behavioral tendencies (e.g., impulsivity, aggression). We select from this broad foundation of tests, self-reports, and measures based on a-priori hypotheses about the underlying neural pathways involved. We acquire this data from all of our research subjects (e.g., individuals who demonstrate drug addiction and risk for developing drug addiction, people with intermittent explosive disorder, healthy controls).

We develop and test new behavioral assays (e.g., drug fluency, drug-related choice, self-awareness, sensitivity to reward, risk, and negative social interactions) that target specific neural networks (e.g., mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine pathways) implicated in the core characteristics of drug addiction and other problem behaviors.

These types of studies look more directly at the interplay between behavioral measures (e.g., inhibition of automatic responses, harm avoidance/fear, and anger) and their possible neurobiological causes (e.g., glucose metabolism in the orbitofrontal cortex).

These well-controlled studies include a control group and/or a control intervention/condition and are designed specifically for the fMRI, PET, EEG, or ERP environment. We conduct these newly developed tasks during scanning in select individuals under select conditions.

The multiple feed-forward and feedback loops among all four levels strengthen our comprehensive research, aimed to advance the dynamic psychobiological study of human self-control and emotion regulation

Neuropsychological Questions

Using these four research methods, we explore a series of questions about the relationship between the physical brain and human behavior, particularly as they relate to addiction:

  • Is drug addiction associated with impaired cognitive function?
  • Is drug addiction associated with changes in personality or emotions? If so, to what extent?
  • What are the most common cognitive-behavioral impairments and emotional changes that are associated with drug addiction (particularly psychostimulants)?
  • Do the class of drug and the stage of addiction (e.g., abstinence, withdrawal) affect psychological functioning?
  • What are the similarities between drug addiction and non-drug forms of addiction (such as gambling)?
  • What is the neurobiological basis of each of these changes? Are there parallel changes in the underlying neural networks that we can map using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), or event-related potential (ERP)?
  • How do our genes affect the relationship between our physical brain and our behavior (e.g., aggression, cue-reactivity, or choice)?
  • How can we help people experiencing problems with addiction in the short term and in the longer term?