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The University of Southampton

Research Group: Experimental Psychopathology Laboratory (EPL)

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Our research uses experimental methods to improve understanding and treatment of psychological disorders, which are associated with dysfunction in basic emotional and motivational mechanisms. Specifically, we study cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms of threat and reward processing in psychopathology, with a strong focus on their role in normal and clinical anxiety. Our work has direct relevance for the development and evaluation of effective treatments for emotional disorders.

Our research examines cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms involved in processing of emotional and motivationally salient information (e.g., external cues of threat and reward), and the role of these mechanisms in causing and maintaining psychological disorders. The main focus of our work is on clinical anxiety, which relates to dysfunctional mechanisms responsible for threat processing. Our research has also extended to the study of cognitive-neurobiological mechanisms involved in reward processing, such as selective attention to external cues relating to alcohol and food. The latter has implications for understanding, and treatment of, overeating and obesity.

Our work uses a variety of experimental approaches, including research methods from cognitive psychology (e.g. computerised reaction-time based tasks, and eye-tracking, to assess selective attention), psychophysiology (e.g. fear-potentiated startle), psychopharmacology (e.g. CO2 challenge, drug and alcohol manipulations), and neuroscience (e.g. event related brain potentials, functional imaging). Our studies are conducted with clinical, at-risk and healthy populations.

Examples of our research aims and projects include:

  • Clarifying cognitive processes in anxiety, e.g. to evaluate cognitive models which assume that attention biases and attention control deficits play a major role in causing and maintaining anxiety
  • Developing translational experimental models of anxiety for the evaluation of novel pharmacological and psychological treatments (e.g. CO2 challenge)
  • Investigating effects of pharmacological manipulations on processing of threat and reward cues
  • Evaluating computerised interventions, using cognitive bias modification, for anxiety disorders
  • Evaluating effects of other cognitive interventions, such as mindfulness training, on cognition and emotion processing
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