The majority of our research studies fall into two broad categories:
1) basic science studies designed to answer questions about behavioral and neural changes in cognitive control and emotion regulation resulting as a function of age or disease, and
2) applied studies that utilize the knowledge of the fundamental studies to then target these cognitive control and emotion regulation capacities through mind-body approaches.
UNDERSTANDING CHANGES IN NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING
In our basic science studies, our goal is to comprehensively and rigorously characterize the nature of cognitive and affective changes we see in clinical populations. Traditional neuropsychological assessments are limited in their scope but by combining advances in neuroimaging research with computational modeling, we aim to systematically parse the contributions of different parameters underlying the specific cognitive mechanism. Additionally, several of our studies employ graph theory metrics to identify dynamic neural connections that predict neuropsychological performance.
MIND-BODY APPROACHES FOR NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL REHABILITATION
In our intervention studies, we aim to systematically assess the efficacy of various lifestyle and mind-body approaches, in improving cognitive functioning and emotion dysregulation. Using the cognitive and neural parameters from our basic science studies as surrogate endpoints, we investigate whether mind-body interventions, like mindfulness meditation, exercise, tai chi, benefit cognitive and affective functioning.
Mindfulness, as defined in the contemporary sciences, is the practice of purposefully directing attention, in a non-judgmental way, to observe the unfolding of each moment as it takes place (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). In our Phase I and Phase II randomized controlled trials, our goal is to systematically examine the effect of mindfulness training on metrics of attentional control, mind-wandering, and emotion regulation. We are also taking this research into exciting directions, such as developing a web-based mindfulness intervention, investigating the effects of mindfulness training on markers of inflammation, and how we can increase the accessibility of these interventions to minoritized communities.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE TRAINING
In this line of research, we are systematically exploring the associations between metrics of physical activity, sedentary behavior, and behavioral and neural correlates of cognitive functioning in older adults and individuals with multiple sclerosis. Our studies within this topic area have ranged from cross-sectional examinations of the association between fitness, metrics of physical activity (like vector magnitude), sedentary behavior, and cognitive functioning, especially in domains of executive control. Moreover, we recently completed a clinical trial examining the impact of pedometer-tracking on behavioral and neural correlates of working memory in individuals with multiple sclerosis. Our future directions within this area of research include analyzing the data from our clinical trial, examining the link between physical activity and brain metrics in some open datasets, and launching a clinical trial with older adults.
COGNITIVE & AFFECTIVE AGING
Aging is associated with decline in a number of cognitive faculties with concomitant changes in the structural and functional integrity of the canonical networks in the brain. Our research projects within this area have examined changes in attentional control, mind-wandering, and emotion regulation with advancing age. In addition to quantifying developmental changes, we are also interested in employing the results of these studies to identify specific and sensitive treatment targets. Given our interest in mind-body interventions for targeting age-related cognitive decline, these studies are critical for a more nuanced understanding of the changes in brain metrics with advancing age, and selecting a priori neuromarkers as mechanistic or surrogate endpoints in clinical trials. Future directions in this line of work include application of edge-based functional connectivity to quantify changes in cognitive and affective aging, developing a neuromarker of emotion regulation, and identifying age-variant and age-invariant connections that predict attentional control in a developmental sample.
COGNITION & AFFECT IN MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative condition, with an onset in young-to-middle adulthood, resulting in significant alterations in physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health. Recently, there has been growing recognition for the role of cognitive difficulties and affective disturbances in the prognosis and disease course of MS, such that these factors psychiatric disturbances are now considered to be some of the strongest predictors of quality of life. In these studies, our goal is to systematically understand the cognitive difficulties experienced by people with MS, especially using newer measures like the NIH Cognitive Toolbox. Future projects in this area include use of ecological momentary assessment to measure everyday changes in cognitive functioning.
COMPUTERIZED COGNITIVE TRAINING
Although this is no longer an active area of study in the lab, we have conducted several clinical trials examining the effect of computerized cognitive training in improving cognitive functioning in individuals with MS and in young adults. With the majority of our studies failing to show transfer effects, and recent reviews highlighting the limited generalizability of such effects for far transfer, there is no plan in the immediate future to launch clinical trials of computerized cognitive training.