In their Own Words: Faculty on their Research
My research uses computer models to precisely measure the inner workings of cognition. In essence, we ask people to do experiments and respond to certain stimuli, and, in the background, a computer model is fit to the human until it becomes their "digital twin", and its responses match those of its human counterpart. We can then "open up" and "pull apart" the digital twin, observe how it works, and make predictions about how it could have worked in the past and how it will work in the future---all of that without looking at the participant. We are now using this technology to examine how people's memory changes with age, and how these changes are accelerated in certain diseases, like Alzheimer's. Our data shows that, by examining our digital twins, we can detect subtle changes in memory function before they become clinical. We are now collecting long-term data to see if we could accurately predict how memory would change, for a specific person, a few years into the future. We hope to be able to extend this approach to other memory problems, for example, to predict if and when intrusive thoughts and memories would go back to normal in PTSD.
Culture and societal environments affect how people act, think, feel, and make meaning of their relationships and lived experiences. For example, sociocultural influences can manifest in the ways individuals think about the roles of alcohol and other substances, use different coping strategies and resources for life stressors, and find ways to promote their mental health functioning (e.g., seek professional psychological services or attend religious services). In the Acculturation, Diversity, and Psychopathology Team (ADAPT), we study mental health outcomes among people from diverse backgrounds--particularly those in understudied and underserved communities. To understand and in turn accelerate the elimination of ethnoracial health disparities, one key area of our research is to examine how people of color "adapt" to intercultural contact. We use survey methods, laboratory-based experiments, and qualitative approaches to identity risks and assets as they pertain to psychopathology symptoms and addictive behaviors. In a series of recent studies, we harmonized several common survey measures into creating a psychometrically robust scale assessing everyday racial discrimination (including what may be considered "microaggressions"), and integrated the use of virtual reality technology in lab experiments to identify the extent to which these racial discrimination incidents can cause distress. Our findings are aimed to inform the development of culturally responsive interventions that promote mental health in communities of color and beyond.