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Psychiatry Faculty Win Three Interdisciplinary Awards from Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Photos: Alison Adcock, Angel Peterchev, Stefan GoetzCongratulations to Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences faculty members Alison Adcock, Angel Peterchev and Stefan Goetz on receiving 2019 Germinator Awards from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). These awards support requests for training, pilot data, non-faculty salary and/or equipment to jumpstart new research and, if successful, lead to external funding.

“I am excited to see the breadth of topics and technologies that are represented in 2019 Germinator applications,” said DIBS director Geraldine Dawson, DIBS director and the William Cleland Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “We also appreciated the wide representation across Duke University.” The 14 researchers on this year’s Germinator teams represent seven departments from three schools: Arts & Sciences, Medicine, and Pratt School of Engineering.

Read on for more details about the awards.

Alison Adcock, “The Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Self-Regulation Learning in Real-time fMRI Neurofeedback”

Neurofeedback is a promising method for examining the relationship between brain function and behavior. In neurofeedback, individuals are shown a graphical representation of a specific brain signal and learn to control that brain signal through practice. Scientists can then measure whether regulation of the targeted brain signal impacts thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Clinicians have also applied neurofeedback to help remedy symptoms of psychiatric or neurological disorders, yet scientists still lack an understanding of the neural mechanisms by which the process occurs. 

To answer this important question, it’s critical to investigate how different regions throughout the brain interact during training to help individuals learn to control a specific brain signal. In this project, we develop a new approach to understand how brain states change during neurofeedback learning using advanced brain imaging technology and computational analysis tools. Ultimately, this project will improve our understanding of how neurofeedback works and promote advances in its design and application.

Other investigators include Rachael Wright, Psychology & Neuroscience; Kevin LaBar, Psychology & Neuroscience; and John Pearson, Biostatistics & Bioinformatics.

Alison Adcock, “Learning from Error: Cognitive, Motivational, and Neural Mechanisms”

Learning from error is a fundamental part of real-world cognition. Students must learn from mistakes to gain knowledge. We all draw on past experience to predict the future, but our predictions are not always accurate. In such situations, we must dynamically update our knowledge and strategies. It is clear that learning from error is important for success, but humans can be resistant to change. When new information challenges our beliefs, we often find it difficult to reconcile with our existing knowledge. What are the conditions that make us receptive to feedback, allowing us to learn from error? 

This group will investigate ways to encourage and support learning from error. They will consider the motivational and emotional factors that shape how we respond to feedback, predicting that learning about how memories integrate with experience will make participants more receptive to feedback. They aim to uncover the cognitive and neural mechanisms of knowledge and belief updating, bearing implications for both educational practices and the pervasive spread of misinformation in the media.

Other investigators include Alyssa Sinclair, of DIBS and Arts & Sciences; and Gregory Samanez-Larkin and Elizabeth Marsh, both in Psychology & Neuroscience.

Angel Peterchev and Stefan Goetz, “Accurate, Affordable, and Easy-to-Use Navigation for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation”

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields sent from a “wand” placed on the head to safely improve brain function without drugs or surgery. TMS is approved for treatment of brain disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and migraine. It also holds promise for studying and treating other psychiatric and neurological illnesses. TMS interventions rely on precise targeting of areas of the brain that may not be functioning well. However, existing TMS devices have limited utility because they require the user to wear expensive and uncomfortable equipment to accurately target the proper brain regions. 

This group will develop a cheaper, simpler, and more comfortable tool to position the stimulator over the correct brain target. Drawing on recent developments in computer vision and smart cameras, the group will develop technology could enable better brain research and clinical treatments.

Other investigators include Guillermo Sapiro, Pratt School of Engineering, and Dennis Turner, Neurosurgery.