People vary widely in their capacity to deliberate on the potential adverse consequences of their choices before they act. Impulsivity (the inability to exert self-control) is a core symptom that contributes to dysfunction and impairment across the entire spectrum of mental illness. It is a cardinal feature of antisocial behavior, psychopathy and substance abuse, which together account for more than $1 Trillion annually in costs related to treatment, incarceration, and lost productivity. Unfortunately, impulsive symptoms are notoriously difficult to treat and there exist few effective therapeutic options. One major roadblock to treatment development is our limited understanding of the neurobiology of impulsive decisionmaking. Work in our lab is focused on identifying specific brain circuit mechanisms that underlie a range of self-control related cognitive functions.
We are especially interested in clarifying how variability in the function of these circuits leads to individual differences in self-control related symptoms. To that end we leverage multiple approaches - behavioral, computational, functional brain imaging (fMRI), neuroreceptor imaging (PET), and brain stimulation. For example, we use non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to manipulate nodes within distributed brain circuits for self-control. The effects of these interventions on behavior are identified using computationally-derived parameters that map onto granular cognitive representations, and their impact on large-scale brain circuitry is "read out" using PET and fMRI. Our lab has contributed to a deeper understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms underlying disorders of impulse control (e.g. substance use disorders, personality disorders, antisocial behavior, and suicide).
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