RESEARCH

Our lab's work is guided by three broad goals:  (1) studying the developmental psychopathology of anxiety and worry in children, (2) understanding cognitive control deficits underpinning worry, rumination, and other forms of repetitive negative thinking, (3) examining treatment effectiveness and novel treatment interventions for anxiety and mood symptoms, including the use of technology and web based applications for assessment and treatment


Currently Enrolling Participants for BIG CATs! 

Feeling anxious or depressed? Ever feel like your worry is uncontrollable?

Join our 4 week research study for free computerized treatment for symptoms of anxiety and depression!

The Study includes: Two visits to the lab, Free 4-week intervention targeting anxiety and depression, and Symptom reports and referrals at the 2nd visit.

Contact the lab today for more information or click the button below to fill out a screener to see if you qualify!


CURRENT RESEARCH


Biopsychosocial Investigation of Guided Computer Activity Trainings (BIG CATs) on Decreasing Repetitive Negative Thoughts in Adults

Targeting cognitive processes that maintain anxiety and depression may be one method for improving treatment outcomes. Cognitive control deficits have been linked consistently with anxiety and depression, as well as associated symptoms such as rumination and worry. Several preliminary studies have shown that cognitive training targeting cognitive control results in decreased depression, rumination, and anxiety. While these findings are encouraging, several critically important questions remain. Aim 1 of the current study is to compare the Paced Adaptive Serial Addition Task (PASAT), the Attention Training Technique (ATT), and combined treatment on measures of anxiety, depression, and repetitive negative thinking (worry and rumination). Aim 2 of the study will test two components of cognitive control as potential mediators of anxiety and depression symptom change. Aim 3 of the study is to test the efficacy of the intervention at three-month follow up. Aim 4 of the proposed study is to examine participant adherence and responses to an at-home, self-administered format for cognitive control training.

Examining Associations between Impaired Gating of Threat from Working Memory and Affective Symptoms

Recent research has suggested that worry may be related to difficulties gating threat-related information form working memory. If threat-related information enters working memory, it has the potential to bias attention, information processing, and action even after it is removed from the external environment, perpetuating anxiety and worry. The primary aim of this study is to replicate recent findings regarding worry, similar forms of repetitive negative thinking, and gating threat-related information. This study additionally aims to expand the research to examine associations between gating threat-related information and intolerance of uncertainty (IU), repetitive negative thinking, and depression. IU has been found to mediate the symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression and both depression and anxiety have been associated with worry and rumination. Thus, this study will examine whether individuals with difficulty gating threat-related information also have heightened IU and depression. If difficulties gating threat-related information are found to influence these constructs, it will provide additional support for targeting such difficulties in transdiagnostic treatments.

Assessing the Validity of the Attentional Control Scale

In order to draw valid conclusions between cognitive control deficits and psychological disorders it is first important to establish scales that accurately measure the construct of interest. The current study tests a common measure used to assess for cognitive control, the Attentional Control Scale (ACS). Although the ACS is a widely used self-report measure of attentional control abilities, recent research indicates that the ACS is poorly correlated with performance based measures of cognitive control. Thus, the primary aim of the current study is to test the construct validity of the ACS, with secondary aims of better understanding the associations between attentional control and anxiety, depression, distress intolerance, and intolerance of uncertainty. Findings from this study will have implications as to the accuracy of the ACS in assessing attentional control abilities. Furthermore, this study will have implications as to the relationship between attentional control and the presence of symptoms associated with multiple psychological disorders.


Ongoing Collaborative Research

Travis and Dylann, training on our eye-tracking equipment

Travis and Dylann, training on our eye-tracking equipment

Testing Competing Models of Worry

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and worry are very common and tend to be chronic. Although CBT is an effective treatment, many people continue to experience symptoms after treatment and have difficulty maintaining treatment gains over time. This may be due in part because traditional models are missing key variables related to the onset and maintenance of symptoms. There are currently several theoretical models of worry and GAD, including variables such as cognitive avoidance, intolerance of uncertainty, positive and negative beliefs about worry, emotion regulation deficits, and experiential avoidance. Each model approaches worry from a different perspective and identifies distinct targets for treatment. We are interested in testing these competing models to examine their relative contributions to the prediction of worry and symptoms of GAD. 

This project is in collaboration with the Behavioral Health Partial Program, directed by Thröstur Björgvinsson, Ph.D., at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

Distress Intolerance and Anxiety

Distress Intolerance (DI) is defined as an inability to withstand distressing emotional or somatic states. DI is associated with a broad range of psychopathology and is a risk factor for a wide range of maladaptive avoidance strategies. We have conducted a number of studies examining the underlying latent structure of distress intolerance, and its associations with worry and other avoidant coping behaviors.

This project is in collaboration with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program, and Kate McHugh, Ph.D, at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

Examining the Nature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, its Correlates, and Treatment Outcome

We are fortunate to have an ongoing collaborative relationship with the Houston OCD Program, a top residential treatment program for OCD, anxiety disorders, phobias, depression, and OC spectrum disorders. The program is firmly grounded in a scientist-practioner model and we are actively involved in facilitating the integration of research and practice. We have a number of ongoing studies designed to better understand the symptoms of OCD, their associations with cognition and overall functioning, and predictors and moderators of CBT outcome. 

Travis Rogers sorting ADIS reports

Travis Rogers sorting ADIS reports

Examining Mechanisms of Change in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has demonstrated both efficacy in randomized clinical trials and effectiveness in clinical samples of individuals with anxiety disorders. However, the active ingredients of CBT responsible for symptom reduction remain largely understudied. We are currently designing a study to examine the underlying mechanisms of symptom improvement in transdiagnostic CBT across anxiety and mood disorders. We plan to use this study to both train clinical psychology graduate students in empirically supported treatments while also providing residents of southern Illinois with state of the art psychological treatment. 

This study will be conducted from SIU's Clinical Center in collaboration with Dr. Holly Cormier, clinic director. 


PAST RESEARCH


 

Rumination, Anxiety, and Depression Study

This study examined methods for decreasing rumination, anxiety, and depression (RAD) in children between the ages of 8-12 years. Parent-child dyads completed questionnaires about thoughts and feelings, a structure diagnostic interview and computer tasks in the lab. This study is closed to enrollment and the results were presented at the SIU CURCA Research Poster session.

Attention Training And Mindfulness as Interventions for Rumination: Associations with Cognitive Control

Recent theories suggest that deficits in cognitive control  put individuals at greater risk for problems disengaging from ruminative thought, a repetitive negative thinking style associated with depression. Two interventions proposed to decrease rumination and improve cognitive control are the attention training technique (ATT) and mindfulness meditation. The current study will examine the effects of the ATT and mindfulness meditation on decreasing induced rumination in an effort to better understand moderators and variables associated with therapeutic change. Undergraduates will undergo a mood and rumination induction and be randomly assigned to one of four conditions: ATT, mindfulness meditation, an active control, or a control condition. Repeated self-report assessments will be administered at baseline and before and after the interventions to examine associations between the interventions and changes in self-focused attention and cognitive decentering. Finally, trait mindfulness, rumination, and cognitive control will be examined as moderators for the intervention effects. 

Testing the Effectiveness of a Smartphone App in Managing Anxiety and Worry

While CBT is effective in reducing worry, many people who could benefit from the treatment fail to access it. One promising avenue for addressing common obstacles to treatment is the development of a smartphone technology based alternative. We developed an app for iPhone targeted specifically at managing anxiety and worry and to test it's effectiveness in reducing symptoms. Participants accessed the app daily over a period of three weeks. Participation was limited to SIU students and required two lab visits and weekly completion of a short online survey for six weeks. 

Cognitive Control Deficits Associated with Worry, Rumination, and Stress Recovery

Dylann Wilkinson corresponding with undergrad participants

This study examined the role of cognitive control deficits in repetitive negative thinking like worry and rumination and its association with poor emotional recovery following a stressor. Difficulty engaging and disengaging attention may put some people at higher risk for worry and rumination, which are often experienced as unwanted and hard to control. This study is closed to enrollment and the results were presented at the SIU CURCA Research Poster session.

Repetitive Negative Thinking and Attention

The goal of the this study is to expand the literature on attentional biases to emotional faces and the association with state and trait repetitive negative thinking, worry, and rumination. Repetitive negative thinking is associated with a broad range of psychopathology, including anxiety and depression. This study aimed to replicate previously documented associations between repetitive negative thinking and anxiety and depression, as well as identify underlying cognitive control mechanisms. This study is closed to enrollment and results were presented at national conferences.

Effects of Attentional Disengagement and Anxiety on Stress Recovery

This study is designed to examine the interacting effects of baseline levels of repetitive negative thinking (including worry and rumination), mood, and difficulties disengaging attention from personally relevant stimuli in the prediction of mood recovery after a stressor. This study is closed to enrollment and results were presented at national conferences.

Attentional Control Deficits and Conceptual Models of Anxiety

Information processing biases have been hypothesized to play a central role in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Specifically, deficiencies in attention disengagement from threat may be associated with higher levels of anxiety and worry (Verkuil et al., 2009). Given that excessive worry is due in large part to a perceived inability to control worry, the regulation of attention is likely an important component of any comprehensive theoretical model. Conceptual cognitive behavioral models and information processing findings have remained largely separate; however, there is much to be gained from their integration. The current study examines the ways in which difficulties with attention disengagement is associated with cognitive and behavioral vulnerabilities hypothesized in various conceptual models. This study is currently closed to data collection and analyses are in progress.

Dagong Ran reading up on design and analysis

Dagong Ran reading up on design and analysis

Cognitive Control Study in Children

A growing literature has used training programs and other behavioral measures to examine cognitive control deficits associated with worry and rumination in adults; these findings have yet to be extended to other theoretically similar forms of transdiagnostic repetitive negative thought (RNT), or to younger populations. Further, treatments to date for RNT are few, and thus, identifying training programs that target mechanisms associated with RNT is an important line of research. Increased understanding of the core mechanisms driving RNT therefore has critical implications for preventing and treating a range of mental health disorders. This study aimed to test the efficacy of a cognitive control training task for treating childhood anxiety and depression. 

Information Processing Biases and Children

Information processing problems and cognitive control deficits may help explain the relationship between parent and child anxiety. Little is known about the relationship between parent and child information processing biases and cognitive control deficits, or if parental deficits confer risk for the development of anxiety in children. This study aims to explore the relationship between parent and child information processing and cognitive control and anxiety and to examine if parent information processing or cognitive control deficits mediate the relationship between parent and child anxiety. 

Devon Ruhde training on our Biopac system

Devon Ruhde training on our Biopac system

Developmental Psychopathology of Anxiety, Worry, and Repetitive Negative Thinking

Worry in childhood is generally understudied, and there are few conceptual models of the development of worry in children. Our lab is interested in incorporating a developmental psychopathology perspective with empirically supported models of psychopathology in adults. We examine the complicated interplay of general risk and protective factors, including but not limited to temperamental influences, cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities, information processing biases, impulsivity and inhibition, physiological markers, parenting factors, and the influence of cognitive development. A previous version of this project consisted of three assessment sessions over the course of three months, including two lab visits and one online-survey completed from home. We are no longer recruiting participants for this study.  Preliminary analyses have commenced, and additional analyses are anticipated in the next several months.

Conceptual Models of Worry and Attention Disengagement

The goal of this study was to link two thus far disparate areas of the literature by examining associations between conceptual models of worry, which are largely focused on cognitive and behavioral vulnerabilities, and information processing deficits. First, we sought to replicate the findings of Verkuil et al. (2009) linking difficulties with regulating attention and worry. Specifically, we predicted that those high in worry and anxiety would show a reduced IOR (reduced ability to disengage) to angry faces compared to happy or neutral faces. Second, we aimed to extend these findings by testing the hypothesis that cognitive and behavioral vulnerabilities to anxiety and worry (e.g., intolerance of uncertainty, difficulties with emotion regulation) are also associated difficulties with attentional disengagement. Further, we were interested in explicating the ways in which such cognitive vulnerabilities might lead to excessive worry. As such, we also tested the hypothesis that information processing acts as a mediator between cognitive vulnerability variables and worry.