RESEARCH PROJECT: Fear of Violence, Productivity, and Economic Disparities
INVESTIGATORS: Christopher Blattman, Associate Professor of International and Political Affairs and Political Science, Columbia University
Johannes Haushofer, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Princeton University
Suresh Naidu, Assistant Professor in Economics and International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
Pietro Ortoleva, Associate Professor of Economics, Columbia University
Lauren Young, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Columbia University
DESCRIPTION: Safety is unequally distributed in the world, and fear is a pervasive presence in the lives of the poor. This includes fear of crime and fear of the police. This project tests whether fear has real economic costs through a hidden channel: cognitive load. We build on recent work spanning psychology and economics that shows that living in a state of “scarcity” – whether due to a scarcity of time or financial resources – causes a mental load that ultimately leads people to make decisions that undermine their efforts to escape poverty. This project extends that work both by looking at a new form of scarcity, scarcity of security, and by testing how the cognitive load of fear reduces productivity on tasks from different segments of the labor market.

We propose a series of experiments to test whether scarcity of security affects economic productivity in poor communities in Trenton, New Jersey. We will test fear of two forms of insecurity that the poor and particularly minority groups commonly face: fear of crime and fear of police brutality. By working in a behavioral lab, we will test the effects of insecurity in a way that both identifies the causal effect of violence and precisely measures its impacts on real outcomes. Our team of investigators, which includes experts in neurobiology, violence, and labor economics, is uniquely positioned to carry out this interdisciplinary project.

RESEARCH PROJECT: Neonatal EEG as Biomarkers for Later ASD and Neurodevelopmental Disorder Risk
INVESTIGATORS: William Fifer, Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons; Associate Director, Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, CUMC
Virginia Rauh, Professor of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health; Deputy Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
DESCRIPTION: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disability that often begins with social and behavioral impairments early in life. Although the etiology of ASD is unclear, there is evidence of atypical neuropathology characterized by abnormal development of the limbic system and cerebellum. Studies have reported that the median age of diagnosis is often not until age 4, with lower socioeconomic status (SES) associated with later diagnosis. Yet, CDC statistics suggest that 80% of parents are expressing concerns related to ASD about their children by the age 2. The purpose of this project is to assess developmental delays in the second year of life in approximately 582 children who were previously enrolled in a large epidemiological study. Neonatal resting EEG data has been collected from all participants, and phone-based developmental screening tools will be administered between 24 and 36 months of age, with the goal of examining correlations between differences in electrocortical activity at birth and later socio-emotional/behavioral problems. Determining which perinatal, neonatal, and social risk factors are important in the development of ASD will help clinicians focus prevention, early diagnosis, and early intervention efforts. This study will form collaborations between developmental neuroscientists studying early neural differences and epidemiologists identifying population level risk factors for developmental disorders.

RESEARCH PROJECT: Form as Concept: Levels of Mental Construal Involved in Processing Abstract Art
INVESTIGATORS: Daphna Shohamy, Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University
Eric Kandel, Professor of Neuroscience, Columbia University; Director, Kavli Institute of Brain Science; Co-Director, Mortimer Zucker Mind Brain Behavior Institute
Celia Durkin, MA in Art History, Columbia University
DESCRIPTION: The purpose of this project is to explore aspects of the perceptual processing of abstract art by the Beholder. Earlier research in this field has been rather limited, but has been useful in suggesting a number of alternative ideas. While some research suggests that abstract art elicits higher-order creative thinking associated with top-down processing, other research points to abstract art’s elicitation of bottom-up processing through the exaggeration of concrete visual data such as color, line, and shape. Building from the research on top-down and bottom-up processing, this project offers a new conceptual paradigm for investigating aspects of perception of abstract art. Using Construal Level Theory, a psychological theory that measures abstract (top-down related) and concrete (bottom-up related) thought processes, this project will test different behavioral measures via Mechanical Turk and develop a collection of stimuli to determine whether abstract art evokes more abstract or more concrete mental construal.
RESEARCH PROJECT: Examining Neural Correlates of Stigma in the Clinical High Risk State for Psychosis: Integrating Neuroscience and Public Health Approaches for Mental Illness Stigma
INVESTIGATORS: Lawrence Yang, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health
Kevin Ochsner, Professor of Psychology, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Julie Spicer, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Columbia University
DESCRIPTION: While the study of stigma has advanced from a social science and public health perspective, there remains an almost complete lack of knowledge about the neural bases of stigma among people with mental illness that constitutes a sizeable gap. Gaining knowledge of neural circuits involved in stigma would substantially advance society and neuroscience by identifying fundamental brain processes by which stigma negatively exerts its effects and by providing biomarkers to guide selection of the most effective cognitive strategies to reduce stigma. Our proposal further examines stigma in the context of the groundbreaking development of the “clinical high risk for psychosis” (‘CHR’), a designation that enables the earliest identification of psychotic signs, thus facilitating public health efforts to prevent the onset of psychosis. This collaborative proposal adds new expertise in social neuroscience with stigma of the CHR in the context of an ongoing 5-year R01 grant. We propose to build upon the ongoing R01 to test mechanisms of “internalized stigma” (i.e., the application of harmful mental illness stereotypes to the self), cognition, and neural processes via two cognitive neuroscience paradigms in persons who are at CHR (n= 20). We advance understanding of internalized stigma by operationalizing it via novel behavioral and neuroscience versions of an established self-relevance task (where participants are asked to what extent a given mental illness trait describes them), and then link these markers of internalized stigma to performance on a memory task as well as neuroscience version of a facial emotion recognition task.

In Study #1, we utilize the self-relevance paradigm in a novel fashion to assess the degree of internalized stigma held by all CHR participants (n=20). We then use these new behavioral and neural “markers of internalized stigma” to predict current symptoms and functioning, as well as impairment of memory processes that may be linked with transition to psychosis. In Study #2, we will test emotion recognition of fear faces via an fMRI version of a widely-used facial emotion recognition task, in which initial behavioral data from our R01 shows that greater internalized stigma is linked with worse emotion recognition (i.e., more ‘false positive’ perceptions of fear among non-fear faces). Via this task, examining neural mechanisms underlying inaccurate social cognition of fearful faces (i.e., ‘false positive’ perception) might identify distinct activation of brain circuitry that underlies greater social impairment as measured clinically in CHR. Validating the first fMRI task to our knowledge for internalized stigma offers a key innovation to understand how neural bases of stigma in CHR may be linked with worse outcomes, including progression to psychosis, and to ultimately devise stigma interventions to increase uptake of early intervention. This study may thus initiate a transformative program to harness neuroscience methods to deepen examination of the social science concept of stigma by adding a powerful perspective to address this harmful societal dynamic.

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