Research in the MINDSET lab is focused on understanding the effects that traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological stress have on the human brain and health outcomes. We use cognitive neuroscience tools including MRI to examine the neural correlates of cognitive processes such as memory and attention, social and emotional processes. We also examine how genetic and epigenetic factors moderate outcomes after injury and through the aging process. Our research investigates the long-term consequences of injury to the brain, including links to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and interactions with mental health disorders.
We study the effects of military concussion and posttraumatic stress on brain function and structure, as well as cognitive and health outcomes. Military personnel in recent wars have been exposed to blast-related traumatic brain injuries and chronic stress that, for a subset of these individuals, can lead to changes in the brain. Through studying these individuals, we have discovered that those who sustained a loss-of-consciousness with their mild TBI were more at risk for axonal injury years after the event than those who did not lose consciousness. In addition, we found links between brain injury and postconcussion symptoms, including headaches.
We also study the effects of sports concussion on brain structure and function. Recent work has shown that forces applied to the head within the context of certain sports is associated with neurodegenerative disease such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, not everyone who plays sports and sustains concussions develop negative long-term outcomes. Our lab is studying individual differences that may predict who will develop negative consequences in the future.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Following life-threatening events such as assaults, combat, and motor-vehicle accidents, some individuals develop posttraumatic stress disorder which is characterized by unwanted and intrusive memories of the traumatic event, negative mood, avoidance, and exaggerated arousal response. We study the effects that chronic stress has on the brain and cognition, as well as the long-term consequences of prolonged stress reactions. Our long-term goal is to understand how treatment may normalize brain alterations to promote healing.