The Systems Neuroscience of Psychopathology Laboratory (SNPlab)

People vary widely in their capacity to deliberate on the potential adverse consequences of their choices before they act. Impulsivity (the inability to exert self-control) is a core symptom that contributes to dysfunction and impairment across the entire spectrum of mental illness. It is a cardinal feature of antisocial behavior, psychopathy and substance abuse, which together account for more than $1 Trillion annually in costs related to treatment, incarceration, and lost productivity. Unfortunately, impulsive symptoms are notoriously difficult to treat and there exist few effective therapeutic options.One major roadblock to treatment development is our limited understanding of the neurobiology of impulsive decision-making.

Our work is focused on identifying brain circuits that are involved in self-control in order to understand the systems-level neurobiological mechanisms that lead to individual variability in impulsivity. Our primary tools in this endeavor are brain imaging techniques - in particular,  molecular imaging with PET and MRI-based functional, structural, and connectivity imaging - which we combine with personality and behavioral assessment. Additionally, we use brain stimulation approaches such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to manipulate nodes within distributed brain circuits for self-control; the effects of these manipulations on the larger-scale circuits are read out using PET and fMRI.  


General Areas

  • The Cognitive Architecture of Self-Control
  • Neural bases of Individual Differences in Self-Control and in Risk for Impuse Control Disorders
  • Pathophysiology of Antisocial Behavior, Psychopathy, and Substance Abuse
  • Genetic and Epigenetic Modulation of Neural Circuitry for Emotion, Motivation, and Decision-Making
  • Cognitive and Neural Foundations for Social Norm-Based Cooperative Behavior
  • Uses (and Abuses) of Neuroscientific Data in the Courts.

Specific Topics

  • Neural circuit mechanisms for individual differences in impulsivity and aggression
  • Aberrant value-based decision-making in Antisocial Behavior, Psychopathy, and Substance Abuse
  • Interactions between attention, working memory, and reward in self-control
  • Implications of deficient self-control for cooperative social behavior
  • Genetic and environmental regulation of human mesolimbic dopamine circuitry