My program of research includes two main components: (1) reward devaluation theory (RDT); and (2) network analysis. RDT is a framework for depression positing that some depressed persons come to actively avoid positivity (e.g., happiness) due to previous and repeated pairings of positivity with adverse or negative outcomes, such as disappointment. A core symptom of depression associated with this framework is anhedonia, a loss of interest or pleasure in people or things. I am interested in continuing to examine how different facets of anhedonia relate to fears and avoidance of positivity, as well as possible mechanisms and processes associated with RDT (e.g., cognitive biases).
Network analysis conceives of psychological disorders, like major depression, as descriptive labels for the interactions between specific symptoms. For example, one historical conceptualization of mental illness has been the medical model, which views depression as a “disease entity” that gives rise to symptoms such as depressed mood, insomnia, loss of energy, and concentration difficulties. In the network approach, depression is not seen as a specific cause for these symptoms. Instead, depression is seen as emergent via the relationships between specific symptoms. For example, if one has insomnia, one is likely to experience fatigue and concentration difficulties, which can then lead to that person feeling down or depressed. In this case, one might focus on treating issues related to insomnia as opposed to “the depression,” as insomnia is likely an important symptom in this patient’s network. I am interested in continuing to apply this framework and cutting-edge methodologies to studying the structure of mental disorders and other psychological phenomena (such as personality traits).
I welcome the opportunity to mentor undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in this program of research, and am more than happy to discuss student involvement in current projects on an individual basis. Feel free to stop by my office or send me an email if you think you may be interested in these areas of research.
Here are some student research projects that I have recently directed: