The goal of the proposed training plan is to further develop the applicant's knowledge and research skills in the areas of psychophysiology, cognitive and affective science, and experimental psychopathology. Ultimately, the training experiences provided by this fellowship will greatly promote the applicant's goals to conduct high- quality research on physiological and cognitive mechanisms of emotional disorders and develop novel preventative and treatment interventions based on these mechanisms. The primary proposed training experience is a research project that will use psychophysiological measures to investigate emotion regulatory (ER) disturbance in Panic Disorder (PD) and examine possible cognitive mechanisms of this disturbance. The proposed training plan also includes coursework in cognitive science and statistics;regular meetings with sponsors;sponsor- and consultant-guided readings;clinical practical;and professional development activities. The proposed research will complement this training plan by providing applied experience with psychophysiological and cognitive methodology, clinical sample recruitment and screening, and data analysis and interpretation. This particular research topic was chosen not only because it fits well with the applicant's career goals and prior experience, but also because anxiety disorders are a highly prevalent and disabling public health problem. A better understanding of why some individuals have difficulty regulating anxiety would have direct implications for intervention development. Consistent with this, "regulatory systems" is a proposed domain for the NIMH's recent Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative. Previous research in this area has been limited by a reliance on self-report measures of ER ability and infrequent investigation of possible mediators. Therefore, Aim 1 of the proposed study is to assess the degree to which individuals with PD, relative to controls, can voluntarily regulate (i.e, decrease and increase) physiological indicators of emotional responding to unpredictable threat (of shock).
Aim 2 is to assess effortful control ability (a potential mechanism of emotion regulatory deficits) among PD individuals vs. controls, as well as the degree to which effortful control is disrupted in a threatening context. We will then assess whether effortful control (eithe during threat or at baseline) mediates group differences in ER ability. Data will be collected from 45 individuals with current PD and 45 healthy controls. Mentorship for this project will be provided by experts in the areas of psychophysiology and threat processing in PD (Dr. Stewart Shankman), cognition and cognitive bases of emotional disorders (Drs. Scott Langenecker and Ian Gotlib), and experimental psychopathology (Drs. Shankman, Langenecker, and Gotlib). This study will be the first to assess objective indices of ER ability in individuals with PD, as well a the first to relate cognitive performance to ER in this population. Thus, the proposed fellowship will be instrumental in propelling the applicant's career and promises to yield results directly applicable to the development of new interventions for anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are costly, common, and disabling public health problems and are associated with high rates of treatment non-response and dropout. One way to accelerate development of more effective and tolerable treatments is through a better understanding of emotion regulation deficits associated with anxiety disorders and the cognitive mechanisms underlying these deficits. The proposed research project will therefore (1) compare individuals with Panic Disorder to healthy individuals on their ability to regulate emotional responding to potential threat and (2) evaluate several cognitive mechanisms that may explain emotion regulatory problems.