Research

We study attention, emotion and their interaction. Understanding these psychological functions is critical to understanding human behavior, motivation, aging, and emotional regulation just to name a few. Because our brains have limited resources for processing information we are endowed with the ability to select specific items (specific sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, etc.) for further processing. This is the basic principle of "attentional selection," and emotion often plays a role in helping our brain determine which specific items are the most important. Selection can be achieved by a top-down mechanism where an individual consciously determines to pay attention to a specific stimulus. For example, you are consciously focusing your visual attention towards the words on this page. Our attentional focus can also be drawn to previously non-attended stimuli that are likely to be important. For example, your attention would be drawn away from this page if you heard an angry shout in the next room. The latter form of attention allocation has been termed bottom-up regulation.
During the past few years our research program has become focused on studying the role of emotion in both bottom-up and top-down attention selection processes. Most recently this has included investigations into the role that emotional factors play in attentional control in various contexts including relationship dynamics (specifically adult attachment styles), emotion regulation, fear of death and its effect on human behavior, processing of facial attractiveness, and adult aging. To study these phenomena we employ behavioral and neuroscience research methods, the latter including non-invasive electrophysiological measures of brain activity, referred to as event-related brain potentials (ERPs). _____