Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Berkeley (2011)
Bachelor of Arts, Wesleyan University (2002)
Amit Etkin, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
We examined the relationship between a functional polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and individual differences in emotional reactivity in two laboratory studies. In Study 1, empathic responding and physiological reactivity to viewing films of others in distress were assessed in healthy adults in three age groups. In Study 2, emotional responding to watching oneself in an embarrassing situation was assessed in healthy adults and in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. In Study 1, participants with two short alleles of 5-HTTLPR reported more personal distress and showed higher levels of physiological responses in response to the films than participants with long alleles. In Study 2, participants with two short alleles reported more anger and amusement and displayed more emotional expressive behaviors in response to the embarrassing situation than participants with long alleles. These two findings from diverse samples of participants converge to indicate that individuals who are homozygous for the short allele variant of 5-HTTLPR have greater levels of emotional reactivity in two quite different socially embedded contexts.
View details for DOI 10.1037/a0029616
View details for Web of Science ID 000314535500005
View details for PubMedID 22906085
Past studies on emotion recognition and aging have found evidence of age-related decline when emotion recognition was assessed by having participants detect single emotions depicted in static images of full or partial (e.g., eye region) faces. These tests afford good experimental control but do not capture the dynamic nature of real-world emotion recognition, which is often characterized by continuous emotional judgments and dynamic multimodal stimuli. Research suggests that older adults often perform better under conditions that better mimic real-world social contexts. We assessed emotion recognition in young, middle-aged, and older adults using two traditional methods (single emotion judgments of static images of faces and eyes) and an additional method in which participants made continuous emotion judgments of dynamic, multimodal stimuli (videotaped interactions between young, middle-aged, and older couples). Results revealed an Age × Test interaction. Largely consistent with prior research, we found some evidence that older adults performed worse than young adults when judging single emotions from images of faces (for sad and disgust faces only) and eyes (for older eyes only), with middle-aged adults falling in between. In contrast, older adults did better than young adults on the test involving continuous emotion judgments of dyadic interactions, with middle-aged adults falling in between. In tests in which target stimuli differed in age, emotion recognition was not facilitated by an age match between participant and target. These findings are discussed in terms of theoretical and methodological implications for the study of aging and emotional processing.
View details for DOI 10.1037/a0029367
View details for Web of Science ID 000313306500020
View details for PubMedID 22823183
Emotional empathy and prosocial behavior were assessed in older, middle-aged, and young adults. Participants watched two films depicting individuals in need, one uplifting and the other distressing. Physiological responses were monitored during the films, and participants rated their levels of emotional empathy following each film. As a measure of prosocial behavior, participants were given an additional payment they could contribute to charities supporting the individuals in the films. Age-related linear increases were found for both emotional empathy (self-reported empathic concern and cardiac and electrodermal responding) and prosocial behavior (size of contribution) across both films and in self-reported personal distress to the distressing film. Empathic concern and cardiac reactivity to both films, along with personal distress to the distressing film only, were associated with greater prosocial behavior. Empathic concern partially mediated the age-related differences in prosocial behavior. Results are discussed in terms of our understanding both of adult development and of the nature of these vital aspects of human emotion.
View details for DOI 10.1037/a0025011
View details for Web of Science ID 000309946200032
View details for PubMedID 21859198
Successful navigation of the social world requires the ability to recognize and track emotions as they unfold and change dynamically. Neuroimaging and neurological studies of emotion recognition have primarily focused on the ability to identify the emotion shown in static photographs of facial expressions, showing correlations with the amygdala as well as temporal and frontal brain regions. In this study, we examined the neural correlates of continuously tracking dynamically changing emotions. Fifty-nine patients with diverse neurodegenerative diseases used a rating dial to track continuously how positive or how negative the character in a film clip felt. Tracking accuracy was determined by comparing participants' ratings with the ratings of 10 normal control participants. The relationship between tracking accuracy and regional brain tissue content was examined using voxel-based morphometry. Low tracking accuracy was primarily associated with gray matter loss in the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Our finding that the right OFC is critical to the ability to track dynamically changing emotions is consistent with previous research showing right OFC involvement in both socioemotional understanding and modifying responding in changing situations.
View details for DOI 10.1002/hbm.21251
View details for Web of Science ID 000301341000001
View details for PubMedID 21425397
This study examined the relationship between individual differences in executive functions (EF; assessed by measures of working memory, Stroop, trail making, and verbal fluency) and ability to down-regulate and up-regulate responses to emotionally evocative film clips. To ensure a wide range of EF, 48 participants with diverse neurodegenerative disorders and 21 older neurologically normal ageing participants were included. Participants were exposed to three different movie clips that were designed to elicit a mix of disgust and amusement. While watching the films they were either instructed to watch, down-regulate, and up-regulate their visible emotional responses. Heart rate and facial behaviours were monitored throughout. Emotion regulatory ability was operationalised as changes in heart rate and facial behaviour in the down- and up-regulation conditions, controlling for responses in the watch condition. Results indicated that higher verbal fluency scores were related to greater ability to regulate emotion in both the down-regulation and up-regulation conditions. This finding remained significant even after controlling for age and general cognitive functioning. No relationships were found between emotion regulation and the other EF measures. We believe these results derive from differences among EF measures, with verbal-fluency performance best capturing the complex sequence of controlled planning, activation, and monitoring required for successful emotion regulation. These findings contribute to our understanding of emotion-cognition interaction, suggesting a link between emotion-regulatory abilities and individual differences in complex executive functions.
View details for DOI 10.1080/02699931.2011.557291
View details for Web of Science ID 000301650200011
View details for PubMedID 21432634
Pathological laughing and crying is a disorder of emotional expression seen in a number of neurological diseases. The aetiology is poorly understood, but clinical descriptions suggest a disorder of emotion regulation. The goals of this study were: (i) to characterize the subjective, behavioural and physiological emotional reactions that occur during episodes of pathological laughing and crying; (ii) to compare responses during these episodes to those that occur when emotions are elicited under standard conditions (watching sad and amusing emotional films, being startled); and (iii) to examine the ability of patients with this disorder to regulate their emotions under standardized conditions. Twenty-one patients with pathological laughing and crying due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and 14 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but no pathological laughing and crying were studied. Emotional measures included self-reported emotional experience, video recordings of facial reactivity and peripheral physiological responses (skin conductance, heart rate and somatic activity). Nineteen of the 21 patients with histories of pathological laughing and crying had at least one episode in the laboratory that they agreed constituted pathological laughing or crying (a total of 56 episodes were documented). Compared with viewing sad and amusing films, the episodes were associated with greater facial and physiological activation. Contrary to many clinical descriptions, episodes were often induced by contextually appropriate stimuli and associated with strong experiences of emotion that were consistent with the display. When instructed to regulate their facial responses to emotion-eliciting films, patients with pathological laughing and crying showed impairments compared with patients who did not have a history of this disorder. These findings support the idea that pathological laughing and crying represents activation of all channels of emotional responding (i.e. behavioural, physiological and subjective). Furthermore, they support previously advanced theories that, rather than being associated with general emotional hyperreactivity, this disorder may be due to dysfunction in frontal neural systems that support voluntary regulation of emotion.
View details for DOI 10.1093/brain/awr297
View details for PubMedID 22155983
We examined instructed and spontaneous emotion regulation in patients with frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD, N = 32), which presents with profound emotional and personality changes; patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD, N = 17), which presents with profound memory impairment; and neurologically normal controls (N = 25). Participants were exposed to an aversive acoustic startle stimulus (115 dB) under 3 different conditions: (a) unwarned without instructions to down-regulate, (b) warned without instructions to down-regulate, and (c) warned with instructions to down-regulate. In the last 2 conditions, the warning took the form of a 20-s countdown. In all conditions, visible aspects of the startle response were assessed by measuring overall somatic activity and coding emotional facial expressions. FTLD patients, AD patients, and control participants showed similar patterns of down-regulation in somatic activity across the 3 startle trials. However, differences between the 3 groups emerged in the amount of emotional facial behavior expressed in the startle trials. There were no group differences in response in the unwarned condition, indicating that the startle response was intact in the patients. In the warned with instructions condition, both FTLD and AD patients were moderately impaired in down-regulatory ability compared with controls. In the warned without instructions condition, AD patients and normal controls spontaneously down-regulated their emotional responses, but FTLD patients did not. These findings illuminate specific problems that these patients have in the emotional realm.
View details for DOI 10.1037/a0018519
View details for Web of Science ID 000275984800003
View details for PubMedID 20230125
Behavioral regulation is a hallmark feature of executive functioning (EF). The present study investigated whether commonly used neuropsychological test measures of EF (i.e., working memory, Stroop, trail making, and verbal fluency) were related to ability to downregulate emotion both spontaneously and when instructed to suppress emotional expressions. To ensure a wide range of EF, 24 frontotemporal lobar degeneration patients, 7 Alzheimer's patients, and 17 neurologically normal controls participated. Participants were exposed to an acoustic startle stimulus (single aversive noise burst) under three conditions: (1) unwarned, (2) warned with no instructions (to measure spontaneous emotion downregulation), and (3) warned with instructions to suppress (to measure instructed emotion downregulation). Results indicated that higher verbal fluency scores were related to greater emotion regulation (operationalized as reduction in body movement and emotional facial behavior when warned of the impending startle) in both regulation conditions. No relationships were found between emotion regulation in these conditions and the other EF measures. We conclude that, of four commonly used measures of EF, verbal fluency best indexes the complex processes of monitoring, evaluation, and control necessary for successful emotion regulation, both spontaneously and following instructions to suppress.
View details for DOI 10.3758/CABN.9.2.144
View details for Web of Science ID 000265666100002
View details for PubMedID 19403891
The likelihood of conversion to Alzheimer disease (AD) in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and the "optimal" early markers of conversion need to be established.To evaluate conversion rates to AD in subtypes of MCI and to identify neuropsychological measures most predictive of the time to conversion.Patients were followed up semiannually and controls annually. Subtypes of MCI were determined by using demographically adjusted regression norms on neuropsychological tests. Survival analysis was used to identify the most predictive neuropsychological measures.Memory disorders clinic.One hundred forty-eight patients reporting memory problems and 63 group-matched controls.A consensus diagnosis of probable AD.At baseline, 108 patients met criteria for amnestic MCI: 87 had memory plus other cognitive domain deficits and 21 had pure memory deficits. The mean duration of follow-up for the 148 patients was 46.6 +/- 24.6 months. In 3 years, 32 (50.0%) of 64 amnestic-"plus" and 2 (10.0%) of 20 "pure" amnestic patients converted to AD (P = .001). In 148 patients, of 5 a priori predictors, the percent savings from immediate to delayed recall on the Selective Reminding Test and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised Digit Symbol Test were the strongest predictors of time to conversion. From the entire neuropsychological test battery, a stepwise selection procedure retained 2 measures in the final model: total immediate recall on the Selective Reminding Test (odds ratio per 1-point decrease, 1.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.05-1.14; P < .0001) and Digit Symbol Test coding (odds ratio, 1.06; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-1.11; P = .01). The combined predictive accuracy of these 2 measures for conversion by 3 years was 86%.Mild cognitively impaired patients with memory plus other cognitive domain deficits, rather than those with pure amnestic MCI, constituted the high-risk group. Deficits in verbal memory and psychomotor speed/executive function abilities strongly predicted conversion to AD.
View details for Web of Science ID 000239573200010
View details for PubMedID 16894068
In cognitively impaired patients without dementia, the utility of apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotyping is unclear.To evaluate the predictive utility of the APOE epsilon4 genotype for conversion to probable Alzheimer disease (AD).Naturalistic, longitudinal study.Memory disorders outpatient clinic.A total of 136 patients with memory complaints were determined to have mild cognitive impairment and were evaluated every 6 months. Fifty-seven age- and sex-matched healthy controls were evaluated annually.Primary outcome measures included conversion to AD. Secondary outcome measures included change over time in Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score and Selective Reminding Test (SRT) delayed recall score.The APOE epsilon4 allele was present in 25% of patients and 21% of healthy controls. During a mean +/- SD follow-up of 35.2 +/- 24.3 months, 35 of 136 patients converted to AD. APOE epsilon4 carrier status did not differ between converters (31%) and nonconverters to AD (23%, P = .3) and did not affect the time trend in MMSE or SRT scores in the entire sample. Four of 5 APOE epsilon4 homozygotes converted to AD compared with 7 of 29 heterozygotes (P = .02). In a Cox proportional hazards model stratified by age quartiles, after controlling for sex, education, MMSE score, and SRT delayed recall score, APOE epsilon4 increased the risk of AD in patients 70 to 85 years old (n = 57; risk ratio, 2.77; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-7.3; P = .03) but not in patients 55 to 69 years old (n = 79; P = .7).APOE epsilon4 carrier status was associated with conversion to AD in older outpatients after controlling for known demographic and clinical risk factors, and APOE epsilon4 homozygosity was associated with increased risk of conversion to AD. However, APOE epsilon4 carrier status by itself did not predict cognitive decline or conversion to AD, indicating that APOE genotyping in patients with mild cognitive impairment may have limited clinical applicability for prediction of outcome.
View details for Web of Science ID 000229596000016
View details for PubMedID 15956169
In two experiments involving recall and recognition, we manipulated encoding strategies, attention, and practice in the Deese, Roediger, and McDermott false memory procedure. During the study of auditory word lists, participants listened to the words, wrote the words, wrote the second letter of the words, or counted backward by threes and wrote numbers in time with the words. The results from both experiments showed that, relative to the full-attention hear word condition, the divided-attention write number condition impaired accurate memory, but not false memory. In contrast, the focused-attention write word and write second letter conditions were comparable to the hear word condition in producing accurate memory, yet they were better at reducing false memory. But even after multiple study-test trials, people still falsely recalled or recognized words that they had never written during study. These results are consistent with predictions generated from fuzzy trace theory and the activation/monitoring framework.
View details for Web of Science ID 000183139600012
View details for PubMedID 12795486
Do participants in the Deese, Roediger, and McDermott (DRM) procedure demonstrate false memory because they think of nonpresented critical words during study and confuse them with words that were actually presented? In two experiments, 160 participants studied eight visually presented DRM lists at a rate of 2 s or 5 s per word. Half of the participants rehearsed silently: the other half rehearsed overtly. Following study, the participants' memory for the lists was tested by recall or recognition. Typical false memory results were obtained for both memory measures. More important, two new results were observed. First, a large majority of the overt-rehearsal participants spontaneously rehearsed approximately half of the critical words during study. Second, critical-word rehearsal at study enhanced subsequent false recall, but it had no effect on false recognition or remember judgments for falsely recognized critical words. Thinking of critical words during study was unnecessary for producing false memory.
View details for Web of Science ID 000178993800006
View details for PubMedID 12430836