RESEARCH INTERESTS & ONGOING PROJECTS
What produces emotions? How do we experience emotions? How can we control emotions? How do emotions impact social behavior? How can cognitive states produce and modulate emotion, and in turn how can emotional states influence cognition? These are some of the questions we seek to answer by our research.
To understand how the brain works, including how it is modulated by an emotional state, it is necessary to combine different approaches. Physiological measures are relevant to understanding the modulation of peripheral functions. Neuroimaging is useful to indicate where in the human brain different processes take place, and to show which functions can be dissociated from each other.
Knowledge of the anatomical and functional architecture of the cortex is needed to show what types of neuronal network interact and in which ways they interact. Measures of experiential and behavioral responses as well as of trait personality provide valuable insights into the relationship between brain and behavior. And finally the approach of cognitive modeling is needed, as it is required to link together all the empirical evidence to produce an understanding of how the system actually works. In our research we utilize evidence from all these approaches to develop an understanding of how emotion is implemented by processing in the brain.
One main research topic of our lab is the cognitive control of emotions. Emotion regulation – the ability to respond emotionally to salient cues in our environment - is a core aspect of adaptive human behavior. Our ability to use top-down cognitive control mechanisms to regulate emotional responses as circumstances change is also seen as a critical factor for mental and physical health. Impairments in self-regulation of emotions are a substantial aspect of psychological disorders such as anxiety disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder as well as neurodegenerative disorders.
Emotion regulation might represent an important mechanism for well-being. In our research, we aim to identify the neural systems underlying emotion regulation. We determine the factors that influence emotion regulation ability such as personality traits, psychological resources, social context, gender, age etc. When we understand the neural mechanisms by which emotion regulation is integrated in the brain, we could identify brain regions that are predictive for emotion regulation ability, and that could be targeted with intervention programs to reduce the use of maladaptive regulation strategies. This could lead to benefits in other domains of our life and thus, increase our emotional well-being.
Some of the main research themes in our lab are described below.