The broad goal of our research program is to understand the etiology and nature of psychosis from the intersection of clinical psychology, cognitive neuroscience and social psychology. By studying the neural basis of cognitive and social impairments across the psychosis-spectrum, we hope to contribute towards developing effective intervention strategies for schizophrenia and related conditions.
We focus on three core impairments that are present well before the onset of schizophrenia and are difficult to ameliorate. These are working memory deficits, social impairments and bodily self-disturbances. First, an inability to use working memory to adaptively guide and control behavior cascades to all forms of cognitive impairments and poor social outcome across a wide range of neuropsychiatric conditions. Second, abnormal perceptual processes that result in ‘noisy’ input to the social brain network contribute to hallucinations and delusions, with debilitating consequences for interpersonal interactions. Third, abnormal sense of the body and self, and associated social isolation may lie at the root of a broad array of psychiatric conditions.
Since the persistence of these problems largely shape functional outcome, they must be targeted for intervention but there is a lack of clearly defined treatment-targets. To address these problems, we try to elucidate neurocognitive mechanisms that are implicated in the etiology of the schizophrenia-spectrum conditions. To this end, we have developed behavioral methods to objectively characterize and quantify core components of self-disturbances, and we examine consequences of anomalous self-experiences for social interactions.
Building upon our past research, we have been working towards implementing novel interventions. First, to improve social cognition and functional outcome of schizophrenia, we use real-time simulation of interpersonal interactions in virtual reality to exercise social skills. Second, we have been using a noninvasive brain stimulation tool (transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS) to restore cognitive control and enhance learning. Third, we have begun to examine protective and promotive factors in individuals who are at high-risk for developing serious mental illness but nevertheless emerge resilient. Understanding the roots of resilience is as important as elucidating risk factors.