Our lab strives to understand, measure, and therapeutically target the psychological processes that engender and maintain prevalent forms of mental suffering including anxiety, depression, fear, and distress. We often have good reason to suffer – life is riddled with trauma, loss, and uncertainty. Yet, paradoxically, these forms of suffering are often amplified by our own thoughts, memories, prospection, and fear of our own mind and body. Our work has thus focused on how mental (ill) health is shaped by the ways in which people experience and respond to their internal states (e.g., thought, emotion).
Our early work focused on emotional sensitivity and tolerance in anxiety and related disorders. This work led to important insights and contributions, including: significant conceptual and theoretical advances in the field’s understanding of the nature of emotional sensitivity and tolerance and its function(s) in prevalent forms of psychopathology and addiction, the capacity to experimentally model this phenomenon in the lab, advances in the precision and ecological-validity of its measurement, and novel intervention development targeting emotional sensitivity and tolerance in anxiety-addiction comorbidity.
Current & Future Research
In recent years, our focus has grown – driven by my aspiration to illuminate a functional network of psychological processes central to suffering and well-being, as well as by the ideas and interests of my talented graduate students. Currently, our lab is working to advance knowledge in four inter-related areas of study.
First, we are working to illuminate the nature and function of attentional (dys)regulation in suffering and mental health; and to translate these insights to novel therapeutic interventions. Specifically, our research has focused on better understanding and quantifying the dynamic process nature and function of (dys)regulation of attentional processing of emotional information (e.g., threat, reward) in the etiology and maintenance of prevalent forms of psychopathology. We have developed a novel computational procedure to study biased attentional processing of emotional information as a dynamic process in real-time, as well as translated these insights to a novel experimental/intervention technology designed to modify biased attentional processing (Attention Feedback Awareness and Control Training (A-FACT)). More recently, we have begun to tackle the long-sought ecologically- and phenomenologically-valid measurement of biased internal attention (e.g., to self-referential thoughts) that may be fundamental to multiple prevalent forms of psychological disorder. I am hopeful that in the coming years, we will make important discoveries into the nature and function, as well as means to therapeutically target, dysregulated attentional processing of internal events. Uniquely, we have done work that builds upon as well as challenges decades of information processing research in psychopathology. We aspire to push the conceptual, methodological and clinical boundaries of this area of research because I believe there is tremendous unmet potential in translational innovation in this area of research.
Second, we are working to better understand the mechanisms through which present moment attention and awareness or mindfulness contributes to mental health. We seek to advance conceptual understanding of key psychological processes through which mindfulness impacts mental health (e.g., meta-cognitive processes sub-serving decentering, experiential self-referential processing, psycho-biological bases of equanimity); and to develop novel cognitive-experimental and behavioral methods to measure these processes in the lab and real-world environment (e.g., implicit cognition tasks, laboratory analogue experimental methods, experience sampling, quantitative-phenomenology integration). Requiring creativity and rigor, I believe that the methodological capacity that we are working to develop is essential to bridging self-report and neuroimaging research – critical to advancing the science of mindfulness broadly and mindfulness mechanisms research across levels of analysis more specifically.
Third, we continue our work to elucidate how psychological processing of internal states (e.g., thought, emotion), particularly those characterized by negative hedonic tone (e.g., fear, distress), contributes to suffering and mental health. We are working to elucidate a functional network of psychological processes – including meta-awareness, identification with experience, reactivity to thought content, (in)tolerance of emotion – that contribute to mental (ill) health; to develop novel cognitive-experimental and behavioral methods to measure these processes in the lab and real-world environment; and to develop novel means to therapeutically target these processes. I am particularly excited about this line of research in my lab because I believe that we have made important conceptual and methodological advances in understanding and measuring key processes central to prevalent forms of suffering in the past 2-3 years. I expect that in over the next 3-5 years we will make exciting translational breakthroughs via intervention methods therapeutically targeting these key mechanisms to improve mental health.
Fourth, in an ambitious effort to apply our lab’s work to a critical public mental health crisis, we are working to develop novel means to improve the mental health of survivors of mass atrocities and violent conflict. Mass displacement due to civil war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide currently affect more nearly 60 million people worldwide. Although rates of trauma- and stress-related mental health problems are high among these refugees and asylum seekers, only a small proportion receive mental health treatment, let alone interventions grounded in a strong evidence-base. Accordingly, in a satellite laboratory embedded in the African refugee community in Israel (in the south Tel Aviv central bus station), we are working to identify promising psychological processes and intervention targets important to the resilience, well-being and mental (ill) health of diverse refugees and asylum seekers. We have pursued this line of research in partnership with members of the refugee community in Israel as well as NGOs working to advance the human rights and health of these populations. Our motivation is two-fold. First, we hope to develop effective, brief, low-cost, and readily implemented interventions to improve mental health for refugee populations globally. Second, we hope to learn important insights about human resilience in the face of unimaginable suffering by studying these populations.
Our lab’s research is motivated by translational innovation, our focus is primarily transdiagnostic, our ideas are grounded in transdisciplinary scholarship, and our approach is team-based.
Translational, our work bridges experimental psychopathology, laboratory, naturalistic, and advanced data analytic methods, with the development and investigation of novel process-focused prevention and intervention methods. Transdiagnostic, we focus primarily on malleable psychological mechanisms that cut across traditional diagnostic categories and conditions. Transdisciplinary, our work is grounded in a number of traditionally discrete disciplines: cognitive and affective science, contemplative science and phenomenology, clinical psychological science and public mental health research. Team-based, our research relies on collaboration between investigations with various forms of methodological (e.g., experience sampling, psychophysics, eye tracking), statistical (e.g., intensive repeated measures data, multi-level modeling), philosophical (e.g., functional contextual, contemplative), technological (e.g., algorithm development, programming), and disciplinary (e.g., philosophy, sociology) expertise – housed within my lab and in partnership with a number of collaborating researchers and organizations in Israel, Europe, and N. America.