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Research Interests

We develop computational models of risk, resilience, and thriving in individuals who have experienced trauma. We study how social factors (e.g., early adversity, cultural biases) impact brain function and mental health. A central goal is to understand individual differences in a person’s vulnerability versus resilience in the face of adversity. We also develop behavioral interventions to improve well-being and productivity. A particular focus lies on embracing authenticity, vulnerability, and individual differences, and leveraging adverse experiences for self-growth and resilience. We study these topics in clinical populations (PTSD) and neurotypical individuals in leadership positions. The research is currently directed in four areas:

  • Development of PTSD brain biomarkers
  • Adversity and resilience of leaders from diverse backgrounds
  • Interpersonal closeness interventions
  • Team trust and performance

Scientific Approach

The research approach is to understand the multidimensional basis of human interaction, including behavior, personality traits, psychophysiological parameters, achievement of performance goals, and underlying brain mechanisms. We integrate methods from neuroscience (fMRI and portable fNIRS neuroimaging), psychiatry, psychophysiology, innovation management science, engineering design, and machine learning.

PTSD Brain Biomarkers

Predicting PTSD Symptom Severity with fNIRS

We conducted the first study demonstrating the feasibility of predicting PTSD symptom severity with fNIRS. Our prediction analysis revealed ten features (i.e., cortical responses from eight frontocortical fNIRS channels, age, and sex) strongly correlated with PTSD symptom severity (r = 0.65). Our findings suggest the potential utility of fNIRS as a portable tool for the detection of putative PTSD brain biomarkers.

Predicting PTSD Treatment Outcome with fNIRS

We examined PTSD symptom change following treatment and tested if fNIRS activation patterns would predict treatment response.  Our prediction analysis revealed six features (i.e., cortical responses from six dorsolateral fNIRS channels) correlated with PTSD symptom improvements (r = 0.53). These findings demonstrate the feasibility of assessing cortical signatures of symptomatic improvement in an affordable and portable manner.

Adversity and Resilience

Neural Response to Gender-based Microaggressions

We assessed the neural responses to gender-based microaggressions in early career faculty in medicine using fMRI. Findings indicate that observing gender-based microaggressions results in a specific pattern of neural reactivity in women early-career faculty. Our results can inform the development of effective behavioral interventions that help reduce gender disparities in academic medicine.

A Neuroscience Approach to Women Entrepreneurs’ Pitch Performance

Making a successful pitch to investors is vital to the success of startups. Improving pitch performance in women entrepreneurs might be an effective mechanism to close gender disparity in entrepreneurship. Drawing on social neuroscience studies, we present our scientific approach to shedding light on the role of “inter-brain synchrony” between women entrepreneurs and investors in pitch performance. 

Interpersonal Closeness Interventions

Expressing Appreciation Increases Interpersonal Closeness

We recently demonstrated that expressing mutual appreciation increases interpersonal closeness and inter-brain coherence in socio-cognitive areas of the cortex (anterior frontopolar area, inferior frontal gyrus, premotor cortex, middle temporal gyrus, supramarginal gyrus, and visual association cortex).

Priming Activity to Increase Team Creativity

We recently developed a workshop activity that increases interpersonal closeness in in-person and virtual (Zoom®) teams. We identified a distinct inter-brain signature linked to this activity in the right frontocortical region. Preliminary results (N = 12 dyads) suggest that the activity increased performance in a subsequent creative-innovation task.

Team Trust and Performance

Zoom® Interactions Alter Conversational Behavior and Inter-brain Coherence

We explored the potential effects of virtual interaction on social behavior, brain activity, and inter-brain coupling. We found that virtual interactions were characterized by patterns of inter-brain coupling that were negatively implicated in cooperation. Our findings are consistent with the perspective that videoconferencing technology adversely affects individuals and dyads during social interaction. As virtual interactions become even more necessary, improving the design of videoconferencing technology will be crucial for supporting effective communication.

Dynamic Inter-brain Coherence in Interpersonal Cooperation using fNIRS Hyperscanning

We developed a data-driven approach to capture the dynamic modulation of inter-brain coherence (IBC) patterns during cooperation tasks. Results indicated that interpersonal communication during naturalistic cooperation generally presented a series of dynamic IBC states along the tasks. The proposed approach is a promising tool to distill complex inter-brain dynamics associated with social interaction into representative brain states with more fine-grained temporal resolution.