I was recently invited to discuss my scientific background and doctoral work for the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Program (MARC) at Brooklyn College. This innovative, two-year honors undergraduate program aims to increase the number of underrepresented scientists in biomedical and behavioral fields.
In this video, I briefly present my doctoral research, discuss methodological design and the structure of my data set, and review appropriate statistical strategies for interpreting the data in relation to my hypotheses.
Affect and Cognition
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Positive affect has been demonstrated to improve aspects of cognition. However, recent studies reveal that positive affect may hinder these same cognitive processes. These discrepant findings may be due to differing levels of physiological arousal (a component of the circumplex model of affect), which has been largely unaccounted for in traditional emotion elicitation procedures. My master's thesis focused on eliciting positive emotion of varying degrees of intensity (i.e., low, moderate, and high) using a combination of music and images, and assessing their effects on cognitive functioning, focusing on executive functioning and creativity. Results revealed differential cognitive performance depending on the intensity of the elicited affective state, as well as the type of cognitive task administered. Findings suggest a significant relationship among positive affect, arousal levels and cognitive performance.
Psychopathology and Cognition
Cognitive processing is also related to psychopathological traits and psychiatric symptoms. For example, deficits in neurocognitive functioning are a core feature of psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia. Severity of these deficits may be related both to illness features (e.g., current symptoms, psychosis history) and health-related behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol use). This study assessed the influence of cigarette smoking on general and social cognition in a BD cohort, accounting for illness features with a focus on psychosis history. We compared smokers vs. nonsmokers on cognitive performance and tested for the effects of psychosis history, premorbid intellectual functioning, substance use, and current affective symptoms. We found that within the nonpsychotic subgroup with BD, smokers generally outperformed nonsmokers; by contrast, for subjects with BD with a history of psychosis, nonsmokers outperformed smokers. These results suggest that there may be at least partially divergent underlying neurobiological causes for cognitive dysfunction in patients with BD with and without psychosis, when accounting for smoking behavior.