THE NEUROSCIENCE OF SELF-CONTROL
Why can't some people stop themselves from doing things that are bad for them? Why can't some people stop themselves from doing things that hurt others? These questions have puzzled philosophers, economists, and psychologists for centuries. The truth is that we still don't know much about why some people are really good at flexibly adapting their behavior, forgoing short term rewards to maximize long term gains, while others appear to be so bad at it. This nagging question motivates our interest in understanding the factors that shape individual differences in self-control.
Individuals vary widely in their capacity to deliberate on the potential adverse consequences of their choices before they act. Highly impulsive people frequently make rash, destructive decisions, and trait differences in self-control are strongly associated with susceptibility to a range of psychiatric disorders, such as substance abuse, antisocial behavior, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Interestingly, these traits have long been known to run in families, and modern genetics research has shown that genes play a prominent role in shaping individual differences in self-control. Of course, these genetic factors don't act in isolation: social and environmental factors are also very important in their own right. Truly, it is the dynamic interplay of genes and environment that is most important for determining where people land on the spectrum of self-control.
The Systems Neuroscience of Psychopathology lab utilizes multimodal neuroimaging (molecular imaging with PET and functional/structural/connectivity imaging with MRI), personality and behavioral assessment, and genomic approaches to understand how genes and environments affect brain chemistry and function to influence variability in human self-control. We are particularly focused on elucidating the mechanisms through which genetic and environmental susceptibility factors act, and interact, to dysregulate neural circuitry involved in reward and motivation, leading to increased susceptibility to antisocial behavior and drug abuse. In addition, we are interested in using neuroimaging and genetic approaches to understand how genes impact the brain to influence social behaviors that are relevant to self-control, such as social cooperation, norm-following, and norm-enforcement.