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Research

The Positive Emotion and Anxiety Research Laboratory specializes in discovering evidence-based solutions to (1) reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and (2) increase life satisfaction and well-being. 

Positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, and gratitude are important elements of life satisfaction and well-being. Research has shown that positive emotions lead to improved social relationships, greater productivity, the adoption of healthy behaviors, and overall longevity. Because positive emotions are not simply the absence of negative emotions, we are studying ways to enhance positive emotions, in addition to decreasing negative emotions. 

We have in the past conducted several and anticipate starting new clinical trials in the near future. Our current studies are evaluating the effects of behavioral and computer-based programs on positive and negative emotions, behaviors, and brain systems that are important for our overall well-being. 

To learn more, please see our Current Studies.





Research Contributions 


Studying Positive Valence Dysregulation in Anxiety and Depression, and Translation to Treatment

Prevailing treatment approaches for a range of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depression, emphasize the alleviation of negative emotions and distress as the central treatment goal. However, increasing evidence points to the potential value of enhancing the functioning of the approach (positive valence) system. The approach system is reliably linked to positive social functioning, overall health and well-being. Previous research, including Dr. Charles Taylor’s, suggests that individuals with anxiety and depression display deficiencies in approach behavior, diminished positive affect, and biases in processing positive information—processes that disrupt the formation and maintenance of positive social bonds. Thus, our current research is focused on investigating ways to translate these findings in the service of developing new intervention approaches to increase responsiveness of the approach system, and ultimately social and emotional well-being.

Associated Studies: 

Taylor, C. T., Bomyea, J. A., & Amir, N. (2010). Attentional bias away from positive social information mediates the link between social anxiety and anxiety vulnerability to a social stressor. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 403-408.

Taylor, C. T., Bomyea, J. A., & Amir, N (2011). Malleability of attentional bias for positive emotional information and anxiety vulnerability. Emotion, 11, 127-138.

Taylor, C. T., Lyubomirsky, S., & Stein, M. B. (2017). Upregulating the positive affect system in anxiety and depression: Outcomes of a positive activity intervention. Depression and Anxiety, 34, 267-280.

Taylor, C. T., Knapp, S. E., Bomyea, J. A., Ramsawh, H., Paulus, M. P., & Stein, M. B. (2017). What good are positive emotions for treatment? Trait positive emotionality predicts response to cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 93, 6-12.


Exploring Approach/Avoidance Systems in Anxiety: Towards a Dual Regulatory Model

Human behavior is guided by two partially distinct biobehavioral systems that regulate approach vs. avoidance motivation and behavior. The approach system guides people toward situations with reward potential, whereas the avoidance system regulates responses to situations with perceived aversive outcomes. Traditionally, anxiety disorders have been studied from the perspective of the avoidance system. Dr. Taylor’s prior work has shown that both approach and avoidance systems may be important for anxiety, and, thus, underscores the potential value of directly assessing and targeting both in treatment. Our current work is studying approach/avoidance system disturbances across multiple units of analysis (e.g., neural circuit function, behavior, self-report) in anxiety (NIMH R00MH090243), mood (NARSAD 21695), and substance use disorders.

Associated Studies: 

Taylor, C. T. & Alden, L. E. (2011). To see ourselves as others see us: An experimental integration of the intra and interpersonal consequences of self-protection in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 129-141.

Alden, L. E., & Taylor, C. T. (2011). Relational treatment strategies increase social approach behaviors in patients with Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 309-318.

Taylor, C. T., & Amir, N. (2012). Modifying automatic approach action tendencies in individuals with elevated social anxiety symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50, 529-536. PMCID: PMC3408559

Jacobus, J., Taylor, C. T., Gray, K. M., Meredith, L. R., Porter, A. M. … Squeglia, L. M. (2018). A multi-site proof-of concept investigation of computerized approach-avoidance training in adolescent cannabis users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 187, 195-204.



Social Affiliation Processes in Psychopathology

Social connections contribute enormously to our mental and physical well-being. Existing mental health interventions, however, produce concerningly modest effects on those outcomes, likely because they were designed to target symptoms rather than social functioning. Dr. Taylor’s research addresses this gap by examining the processes hypothesized to interfere with the development and maintenance of positive social relationships in individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD), and more recently, across the anxiety and depression spectrum. Dr. Taylor’s work integrates interpersonal theory into contemporary models of psychopathology to delineate how social relationships shape, and are shaped by bi-directional cognitive, affective, behavioral, and neurobiological processes unfolding between individuals across time. Much of this work uses standardized social interaction probes to study affiliation processes under controlled experimental conditions, and underscores the importance of studying the behavior and experiences of both parties within an interaction dyad to understand relationship formation.

Associated Studies: 

Alden, L. E., & Taylor, C. T.  (2004). Interpersonal processes in social phobia. Clinical Psychology Review, 24, 857-882.

Taylor, C. T. & Alden, L. E. (2011). To see ourselves as others see us: An experimental integration of the intra and interpersonal consequences of self-protection in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 129-141.

Taylor, C. T., Pearlstein, S. L., & Stein, M. B. (2017). The affective tie that binds: Examining the contribution of positive emotions and anxiety to relationship formation in social anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 49, 21-30.

Pearlstein, S. L., Taylor, C. T., & Stein, M. B. (in press). Facial affect and interpersonal affiliation: Displays of emotion during relationship formation in social anxiety disorder. Clinical Psychological Science.


 

Combining Experimental Approaches in Cognitive Science and Functional Neuroimaging to Elucidate New Treatment Targets and Approaches

The neural systems underlying vulnerability to anxiety and depression are increasingly well understood. Although these findings are being translated to develop novel pharmacological (e.g., DCS) and device-based neurostimulation techniques (e.g., TMS, tDCS), few advances have been made in using psychosocial intervention approaches to target neurally mediated processes that are important for anxiety and depression. Dr. Taylor’s current research brings together computerized cognitive bias modification (CBM) and functional neuroimaging approaches to develop new ways of understanding and modifying the brain to enhance treatment outcomes in anxiety and depression. CBM unifies experimental methods in cognitive and applied clinical science in the service of modifying biased cognitive processing styles (e.g., attention, interpretation) implicated in the pathogenesis and maintenance of psychopathology. Through laboratory-based experimental studies and randomized clinical trials, Dr. Taylor’s work demonstrates that CBM procedures effectively modify the target cognitive bias, influence subsequent emotional, behavioral, and neural responses in the laboratory, and reduce clinical symptoms. By combining CBM and fMRI in a randomized experimental design, it is possible to make causal inferences about brain mechanisms that confer heightened vulnerability to psychopathology. Such an approach provides a mechanistically informed model to develop new interventions. Recent grant-funded projects (NIMH R00MH090243; NARSAD 21695) examined the viability of this model for identifying novel brain targets and intervention approaches for anxiety and depression.

Associated Studies: 

Taylor, C. T., Bomyea, J. A., & Amir, N (2011). Malleability of attentional bias for positive emotional information and anxiety vulnerability. Emotion, 11, 127-138. 

Amir, N., Taylor, C. T., & Donohue, M. C. (2011). Predictors of response to an attention modification program in generalized social phobia. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79, 533-541.

Amir, N., & Taylor, C. T. (2012). Interpretation training in individuals with generalized social anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80, 497-511.

Taylor, C. T., Aupperle, R. L., Flagan, T., Simmons, A. N., Amir, N., Stein, M. B., & Paulus, M. P. (2014). Neural correlates of a computerized attention modification program in anxious subjects. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 1379-1387. PMCID: PMC4158378