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COBRE Phase 2 Project 3: Carla Harenski //

Neurobiology of social emotion and cognition in psychosis

Principal Investigator: Carla Harenski, PhD, MRN

Mentors: Kent Kiehl, PhD (MRN, UNM Psychology) and Juan Bustillo, MD (UNM Psychiatry)

Consultant: Jean Decety, PhD (University Of Chicago, expert in fMRI of empathy)

Dr. Harenski has considerable expertise in the application of functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study social emotion and cognition (SEC) in healthy and forensic populations. SEC impairment is a prominent feature of psychotic disorders, particularly schizophrenia (SZ), but the behavioral and neural correlates of SEC in SZ relative to other psychotic disorders is not well understood. There is also a lack of research examining the association between SEC deficits and dimensions of psychosis symptomatology (e.g., positive vs. negative symptoms). To date, most studies of SEC in psychosis have been conducted in community populations, with less attention directed towards forensic or criminal populations due to the practical challenges of conducting neuroimaging studies in secure institutions and prisons. Criminal offenders with psychotic disorders may show particularly severe behavioral and neural deficits in SEC domains such as empathic processing, but this has not yet been studied. This project will capitalize on the availability of a unique mobile MRI scanner which will be deployed to a secure forensic psychiatric facility to study criminal offenders with psychotic disorders. Structural and functional MRI will be used to examine the neural circuitry underlying empathic processing in patients with and without psychotic disorders (e.g., SZ, bipolar disorder) and associations with psychosis symptomatology. The results of this study are expected to provide a novel dataset in an understudied forensic criminal population that will elucidate the nature of SEC among different types and features of psychosis. 

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