Fear and anxiety are integral parts of our lives. They are adaptive in helping us to avoid threat and harm. In anxiety and related disorders, fear and avoidance are, however, excessive, persistent, and linked to severe impairments. In this regard, pathological fear and avoidance prohibit individuals from obtaining positive outcomes and accomplishing alternative goals. Our lab’s main endeavor is to better understand the development and maintenance of fear, anxiety, and avoidance, and their psychopathology by investigating distinct learning and decision mechanisms (e.g., fear extinction, generalization, approach-avoidance decision conflicts). Ultimately, our research aims to extend current etiological models and optimize and disseminate psychological interventions, especially exposure-based therapy. At the intersection of experimental psychopathology and clinical application, our research combines multiple fields (e.g., associative learning, affective and behavioral neuroscience, process-based psychotherapy research) and is built on multi-level methodology including behavioral methods (e.g., instrumental and habitual behavior, decision-making, mouse tracking), subjective-verbal methods (e.g., Smartphone-based EMA), and psychophysiological methods (e.g., EDA, EMG, EKG, EEG). Currently, we focus on three complementary research tracks:
- How are fear and avoidance (un-)learned?
- How do individuals decide in approach-avoidance conflicts? When and how do individuals approach unpleasant experience for an alternative positive outcome or goal?
- How do the above mentioned learning mechanisms relate to anxious psychopathology and psychological treatments?
In our current clinical study (ELAN study), we combine laboratory-controlled assessments and within-session clinical measures to better understand the mechanisms of actions of naturalistic exposure therapy and improve its effectiveness. By training young therapist, we directly aim to disseminate novel interventions. Moreover, our group is investigating the barriers of evidence-based practice in routine care (for more details see Dissemination of exposure project).
Our current key research projects can be assessed by the following links:
1. The role of competing positive outcomes for fear and avoidance learning
2. Generalization of fear and avoidance
3. Avoidance and habit learning
4. Temporal dynamics of approach-avoidance conflicts
5. Process-based research: Mechanisms of action in exposure-based treatments
6. Dissemination of exposure treatment