The aim with my research is to understand how genetic and contextual factors contribute to brain function and emotional behaviors.
Keywords: fear anxiety fmri positron emission tomography social phobia ptsd specific phobia epilepsy
I want to understand how genetic factors influence emotional behaviors. I study emotional behaviors using experimental techniques. One experimental method for understanding emotional behavior is fear conditioning, where a previously neutral stimulus is learned to predict an aversive event, such as a shock. The neural circuitry serving fear conditioning has been extensively studied in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but very little is known about how genetic factors contribute to this circuit. A powerful means to understanding genetic influences on the neural fear circuit is to study how the phenotype aggregates in families. By comparing identical to fraternal twins, the genetic influences on fear circuit function as well as other brain functions related to emotional behaviors can be estimated.
Another goal with my research is to understand how contextual factors contribute to fear memory. While it has been traditionally challenging to study contextual influences on fear, virtual reality (VR) currently makes it feasible to study contextual manipulations in the laboratory. We therefore develop VR-paradigms to understand how fear learning shifts from one context to another. We are especially interested in how territorial manipulations, when an individual invades your personal space or your property, act on the fear memory circuit. The ultimate goal with our studies is to find out how genetic and contextual factors shape the neural circuitry of fear and avoidance behaviors, which may be relevant to understand anxiety disorders.
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