Self-rated amygdala activity: an auto-biological index of affective distress.

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Auto-biological beliefs-beliefs about one's own biology-are an understudied component of personal identity. Research participants who are led to believe they are biologically vulnerable to affective disorders report more symptoms and less ability to control their mood; however, little is known about the impact of self-originating beliefs about risk for psychopathology, and whether such beliefs correspond to empirically derived estimates of actual vulnerability. Participants in a neuroimaging study (n = 1256) completed self-report measures of affective symptoms, perceived stress, and neuroticism, and an emotional face processing task in the scanner designed to elicit threat responses from the amygdala. A subsample (n = 63) additionally rated their own perceived neural response to threat (i.e., amygdala activity) compared to peers. Self-ratings of neural threat response were uncorrelated with actual threat-related amygdala activity measured via BOLD fMRI. However, self-ratings predicted subjective distress across a variety of self-report measures. In contrast, in the full sample, threat-related amygdala activity was uncorrelated with self-report measures of affective distress. These findings suggest that beliefs about one's own biological threat response-while unrelated to measured neural activation-may be informative indicators of psychological functioning.





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MacDuffie, Katherine E, Annchen R Knodt, Spenser R Radtke, Timothy J Strauman and Ahmad R Hariri (2019). Self-rated amygdala activity: an auto-biological index of affective distress. Personality neuroscience, 2. p. e1. 10.1017/pen.2019.1 Retrieved from

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Timothy J. Strauman

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

FOR POTENTIAL STUDENTS (fall 2024 class): 

Dr. Timothy Strauman and Dr. Ann Brewster will be seeking to admit a student for Fall 2024 who will be an important member of their collaborative projects. Dr. Brewster is an intervention scientist and a faculty member in Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. The collaborative projects focus on creating, testing, and implementing school-based therapeutic and preventive interventions for adolescents at risk for negative academic and mental health outcomes. We are partnering with the Durham Public Schools as well as with other local school districts, and Dr. Brewster has extensive experience and expertise in developing the partnerships, working with community members, and the intervention process itself. We are especially interested in applicants with experience in community-based interventions, with interests in adolescence, and with knowledge and experience working with both behavioral and neuroimaging data.

Professor Strauman's research focuses on the psychological and neurobiological processes that enable self-regulation, conceptualized in terms of a cognitive/motivational perspective, as well as the relation between self-regulation and affect. Particular areas of emphasis include: (1) conceptualizing self-regulation in terms of brain/behavior motivational systems; (2) the role of self-regulatory cognitive processes in vulnerability to depression and other disorders; (3) the impact of treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication, on self-regulatory function and dysfunction in depression; (4) how normative and non-normative socialization patterns influence the development of self-regulatory systems; (5) the contributory roles of self-regulation, affect, and psychopathology in determining immunologically-mediated susceptibility to illness; (6) development of novel multi-component treatments for depression targeting self-regulatory dysfunction; (7) utilization of brain imaging techniques to test hypotheses concerning self-regulation, including the nature and function of hypothetical regulatory systems and characterizing the breakdowns in self-regulation that lead to and accompany depression.

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