Completed Studies

Attention and Resilience Training (ART)

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, PhD

Anxiety and stress-related disorders are the most common and well-studied psychiatric disorders in childhood and adulthood. Yet only 50% of clinically-anxious individuals obtain effective, evidence-based treatments. Barriers to treatment include cost, accessibility, and time burden. Thus, the development of highly accessible, low-cost treatment approaches to complement current treatments is a crucial research goal. Attention bias modification training (ABMT) is a highly-accessible, computerized intervention that may reduce a range of anxiety- and stress-related experiences. The ART study is a four year clinical trial of ABMT for anxiety in adults, focusing on understanding underlying factors in the remediation of anxiety. The project integrates multiple methods including electrophysiology, eye-tracking, neuroendocrine measures of the stress response, behavioral assays, and clinical interviews, with an emphasis on EEG/ERP methods.

Child Emotion Study

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD; Sarah Myruski, MA

Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that involves reinterpreting the challenges we face in the world in a more positive light. Little is understood about the development of reappraisal in children due to limitations in children’s ability to report their subjective experiences as well as the lack of real-life emotional contexts in laboratory assessments. We are particularly interested in parent-child scaffolding, a series of technique through which parents increase their child’s ability to cope with their emotions, both negative and positive. This study uses a combination of brain and behavioral measures to understand how parents help their children effectively reappraise and increase well-being. In this study, five-to-eight year olds and their parents take part in laboratory-based assessments, including questionnaires, EEG, computerized tasks, and problem-solving tasks.

Special Investigation of Curcumin Effects (SPICE)

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD; Glenn Schafe, PhD

Curcumin, a biologically active compound found in the Indian spice turmeric, is being investigated as a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and neuroprotective agent in research studies around the world. This pilot study will be the first to examine whether curcumin as a dietary supplement may be effective in reducing the symptoms of worry, stress, and anxiety that are felt by many people in their day-to-day lives, even if they have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders lack effective treatments for as many as 50% of sufferers: should curcumin demonstrate efficacy in reducing processes associated with anxiety, it may have potential in future clinical use of dietary curcumin in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

 For More Information

Monsey, M.S., Gerhard, D.M., Boyle, L.M., Briones, M.A., Seligsohn, M., & Schafe, G.E.  (2015).  A diet enriched with curcumin impairs newly acquired and reactivated fear memories.  Neuropsychopharmacology, 1-11.

Personality and Cognitive Factors in Alcohol Craving and Risk for Alcohol Use Disorders

Principal Investigator: Joel Erblich, PhD; Tracy Dennis, PhD

The objective of this research project is to examine the interplay among personality factors, patterns of attending to and processing alcohol-related information, alcohol craving, and risk of developing alcohol use disorders in young adults.

 For More Information

Luehring-Jones, P., Dennis, T.A., Murphy, J.G., Dennhardt, A., & Erblich, J.  (May, 2015).  Positive attitudes toward alcohol and impaired self-regulation: A behavioral economic analysisPoster presentation at the Association for Psychological Science’s 27th Annual Convention, New York, NY.

Luehring-Jones, P., Dennis-Tiwary, T.A., Louis, C., and Erblich, J. (June, 2016). The Manipulation of Attentional Biases in a Sample of Young Adult Social Drinkers. Poster presentation at the 39th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism, New Orleans, LA.

Mobile Devices and Child Socio-Emotional Functioning: An Evaluation with the Still Face Task

Principal Investigators: Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, PhD (Hunter College, CUNY); Kristin Buss, PhD (The Pennsylvania State University); and Koraly Perez-Edgar, PhD (The Pennsylvania State University)

While mobile devices have become increasingly prevalent in today’s society, their impact on infant and child development is not yet well understood. Traditionally, the Still Face Paradigm has been used to asses infant-caregiver interactions when the caregiver is not responsive, and past research has indicated that children experience an increase in negative affect and difficulties with reengaging with parents when those parents are unresponsive. Working with colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, we have started to use the Still Face Paradigm to evaluate the social and emotional responses of infants to parents who are unresponsive due to their engagement with their own mobile devices. Our goal is to extend our understanding of the role of mobile devices on infant-caregiver interactions.

For More Information

Gulyayeva, O., Babkirk, S., Louis, C., Brown, K.M., Perez-Edgar, K., Buss, K.A., and Dennis-Tiwary, T.A. (May, 2016). Still Face with Mobile Devices: Impact of Maternal Device on Child Social-Emotional Functioning. Poster presentation at the Association for Psychological Science’s 28th Annual Convention, Chicago, IL.

Effects of a Stress-Reduction App in Pregnant Women

Principal Investigators: Tracy A. Dennis, PhD, Shari Gelber, MD, and Margaret Altemus, PhD

Funding: Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) of the Weill Cornell Medical College

Stress and anxiety in pregnant women has been associated with adverse outcomes in women and in offspring. Anxiety and stress reduction via non-medication based and cost-effective therapies are thus crucial public health goals. Disrupted patterns of attention play a causal role in anxiety and stress. Attention bias modification training (ABMT) is a low-cost, safe intervention that has been shown to reduce anxiety severity and stress. While ABMT overcomes many barriers of traditional treatment approaches, the acceptability and portability of ABM can be further optimized. To this end, our Aims are to: (1) test the initial feasibility and efficacy of an ABM mobile application (or “app”) to reduce anxiety and stress reactivity in pregnant women; and (2) identify biobehavioral markers that predict treatment response.

For More Information

Egan, L., Babkirk, S., Berthod, S., Gulyayeva, O., Luehring-Jones, P., & Dennis, T.A.  (April, 2015).  Game On!: Biobehavioral Individual Differences in the Acute Stress-Reduction Effects of a Mobile Attention Bias Modification Game for Anxiety.  Poster presentation at the 8th Annual Conference of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society, Boston, MA.

Training Towards the Positive Project

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD; Kristin Buss, PhD

Funding: Frontiers of Innovation Program, Harvard Center for the Developing Child

Increasing youth’s ability to cope with daily stressors and promoting resilience in the face of adversity are top public health priorities. Yet, barriers such as cost and accessibility prevent many youth from benefiting from current prevention and intervention approaches. We’ve developed a highly-accessible mobile stress-reduction app that has the potential to promote resilience in at-risk youth. Using cutting edge cognitive bias modification techniques embedded in an engaging, game-like format, this study will test the feasability, usage patterns, and efficacy of the app in youth with elevated anxiety and elevated exposure to stressors.

Emotional Flexibility Study

Principal Investigators: Tracy Dennis, PhD; George Bonnano, PhD

Our goal is to better understand central and peripheral nervous system responses to emotional stimuli that may indicate a person’s emotional flexibility. Participants were asked to (a) regulate the emotion (i.e., maintain, enhance and suppress) they are feeling in response to positive, negative and neutral pictures; and (b) make emotional or cognitive judgments about these pictures. Participants’ response to each picture were measured using EEG and electromyography (EMG) to track physiological flexibility.

For More Information

George Bonnano’s Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Egan, L.J., Babkirk, S., Quintero, J., Gulyayeva, O., Bonnano, G.A., & Dennis, T.A.  (May, 2015).  Neurocognitive assessment of regulatory flexibility.  Poster Presentation at the Association for Psychological Science’s 27th Annual Convention, New York, NY.

Changing Minds: Mindfulness Meditation for At-Risk Youth

Principal Investigators: Tracy Dennis, PhD; David Vago, PhD

Mindfulness- based interventions promote positive outcomes in a variety of people. However, the conditions under which mindfulness and other mind-training techniques are beneficial for at-risk adolescents remain unclear. We explore whether youth trained in mindfulness, compared to placebo and control conditions, show greater resilience (reduced negative outcomes) and more positive cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes. This program includes an innovative pedagogical arm in which a subset of students are taught about the science of mindfulness and recruited as active research assistants. The documentary based on this project, directed by Susan Finley and produced by Peter Barton, tells the story of this pilot program at the intersection of science, education and personal transformation.

For More Information

Dennis, T.A., Simmons, A., O’Toole, L., Vago, D., & Finley, S.  (2014, October).  Changing minds: A pilot Study of school-based mindfulness training for at-risk adolescents. Poster presented at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, Boston, MA.

Changing Attention to Emotion in Children: A Biobehavioral Study of Attentional Bias Modification Using Event-Related Potentials

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD

Current research suggests that computerized attentional bias modification training (ABMT) is a promising intervention for anxiety and stress-related problems in adults. However, few studies have examined whether the attentional bias to threat can be modified in children using state of the art techniques. This study includes children showing signs of anxiety and worry, and examines whether ABMT can alter neural responses associated with anxiety, dysfunctional patterns of attention to threat, and stress reactivity.

For More Information

Slisane, K., Louis, C., Denefrio, S., Babkirk, S., and Dennis-Tiwary, T.A. (April, 2016). Neurobehavioral Patterns of Attentional Bias in Anxious Youth. Poster presentation at the Hunter College Stress, Anxiety, and Resilience Research Center’s conference on Stress and Trauma: Recent Innovations and Future Directions, New York, NY.

Changing Attention to Emotion: A Biobehavioral Study of Attentional Bias Modification Using Event-Related Potentials

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD

This study is one of the first to examine neural and behavioral measures of threat bias in the context of ABM. By taking advantage of the temporal and affective sensitivity of EEG, this study has the potential to clarify both the time course of the threat bias in anxiety and the processes altered by ABM. Findings have the potential to contribute to future studies that will assess whether ABM can be used as an alternative treatment for certain anxiety disorders.

Attention and Anxiety: A Behavioral Study with ERPs

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD and Douglas S. Mennin, PhD

This study examined neurobehavioral and genetic factors influencing cognitive functioning associated with anxiety. Specifically, we tested whether neural measures of response monitoring were sensitive to emotional context in unique ways in a group of anxious versus non-anxious adults.

For More Information

Berthod, S., Simmons, A., O’Toole, L., Mennin, D., Dennis, T.  (2013, October).  Emotional Context and Error Monitoring in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Poster presented at the 53rd annual convention of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Florence, IT.

Social Networking, Emotion, and the Brain

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD

This project examined how the use of social networking platforms (including Facebook, Second Life MySpace, texting, and Twitter) influences social and emotional functioning. Research on this topic has burgeoned in the last decade, yet almost no research has specifically examined how use of social networking platforms influence the emotional lives of individuals. To address this gap, this study took a multi-method approach, integrating neurophysiological and behavioral measures to determine how specific aspects of emotion (emotional face processing, identification of emotions, emotion regulation, empathy, detection of emotional cues in human posture and vocalizations) vary with specific types and preferences in social media use.

For More Information

Babkirk, S., Luehring-Jones, P., & Dennis, T.A. (In press). Computer-mediated communication preferences and individual differences in neurocognitive measures of emotional attention capture, reactivity and regulation. Social Neuroscience.

Babkirk, S., Luehring-Jones, P., Gulyayeva, O., Pehme, P., & Dennis, T.A.  (April, 2015).  An Event-Related Potential Study of Computer-Mediated Communication Preferences and Emotional Reactivity and Regulation.  Poster presentation at the 8th Annual Conference of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society, Boston, MA.

Babkirk, S., Gulyayeva, O., Pehme, P., Luehring-Jones, P., & Dennis, T.A. (September, 2014). An Event-related potential study of social media use and emotional processing. Poster presentation at the Society for Psychophysiological Research’s 54th Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA.

Neural Correlates of Emotion Regulation in Adults

Principal Investigator: Tracy Dennis, PhD

We are interested in the ways that different emotional information interacts with attentional processing. This question has great significance for multiple applied issues, such as learning environments and mental health. Research on this topic has burgeoned in the last decade, yet the field suffers from contradictory and inconclusive findings. This study examined how varying the emotional content and context of tasks influenced specific aspects of attention and cognition.

For More Information

Berthod, S., DeCicco, J., Simmons, A., Jha, A., & Dennis, T.A.  (2012).  Effects of emotion and cue-validity on executive attention performance.  Poster presented at the 52nd annual convention of the Society for Psychophysiological Science, New Orleans, LA.