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Division of Intramural Research

Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain

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Lauren Y. Atlas, Ph.D., leads the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain in the NCCIH Intramural Research Program. The lab’s work focuses on characterizing the psychological and neural mechanisms by which expectations and other cognitive and affective factors influence pain, emotional experience, and clinical outcomes. Our approach is multi–modal: we integrate experimental psychology, neuroimaging, psychophysiology, computational approaches, and other interventions to understand how psychological and contextual factors influence subjective experience. Current projects focus on dissociating components of expectancy (e.g., instructions vs. conditioning; stimulus vs. treatment expectancies), relating pain with other types of hedonic affective responses, and understanding social influences on pain (e.g. patient-provider interactions; health disparities). Long–term goals include revealing how specific features of the clinical context and interpersonal aspects influence patient outcomes, as well as determining whether expectancy–based processing is altered in specific patient populations.

Lab Chief

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Dr. Atlas received her B.A. in psychology from The University of Chicago in 2003, and her Ph.D. in psychology in 2011 from Columbia University, where she studied under the mentorship of Dr. Tor D. Wager. Her doctoral work combined functional magnetic resonance imaging, experimental psychology, and psychopharmacology to examine the mechanisms by which beliefs and expectations influence pain and its modulation. Her dissertation, “Brain mechanisms of expectancy effects on pain experience,” was awarded with distinction. Dr. Atlas’s postdoctoral research was conducted in Dr. Elizabeth A. Phelps’s laboratory at New York University, where she extended computational models of decision-making to isolate components of expectancy, and to understand how these components influence physiological and neural markers of aversive learning. In July 2014, Dr. Atlas joined NIH as an NCCIH investigator and chief of the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain. She also holds joint appointments with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Her laboratory uses a multi-modal approach to investigate how expectations and learning influence pain and emotion, and how these factors influence clinical outcomes.

Lab Members

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Carolyn Amir, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow

Carolyn Amir is a post-bac IRTA research fellow who will be studying the effects of psychological processes on pain perception in healthy adults. To this end, she will gather and analyze neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and participant self-report data. Carolyn received her B.A. from Boston University, where she studied psychological & brain sciences and Japanese language & culture. As an undergraduate, Carolyn studied the relationship between childhood maltreatment and adult outcomes as well as the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation and completed her honors thesis on the relationships among frontal theta and beta rhythms and feedback-based learning. 

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Troy Dildine, Predoctoral IRTA Fellow

As a predoctoral IRTA fellow through the Graduate Partnership Program, Troy will be pursuing a Ph.D. in medicine between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Karolinska Institutet. Troy will be using neuroimaging and psychophysiological measures to study health disparities in pain. Prior to this, Troy spent two years as a postbac IRTA fellow at NCCIH. Troy completed an honors thesis in neuroscience at Dartmouth College under the mentorship of Professor Catherine Norris, and he spent a year under the guidance of Professor Tiffany Ito at the University of Colorado Boulder. Outside of the laboratory, Troy enjoys running ultra-marathons, meditating, fikas, and slam poetry.

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Margaret Rose-McCandlish, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow

Margaret Rose-McCandlish is a postbac IRTA research fellow who will be studying the effects of psychological processes on pain perception and expression in healthy adults. To this end, she will gather and analyze neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and participant self-report data. Margaret received her B.A. in psychology from Middlebury College, and also studied psychology at the Université Paris Diderot. As an undergraduate she worked in the Clinical Psychophysiology Lab of Dr. Matthew Kimble researching Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Rachel Weger, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow

Rachel Weger is a postbac IRTA fellow in the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain. She can be reached at rachel.weger@nih.gov or (301) 451-6573.

qinbao yu

Qingbao Yu, Ph.D., Senior MRI Data Analyst

Qingbao Yu, Ph.D., is a senior MRI data analyst. He will perform analyses on pain related task fMRI data. Dr. Yu received his B.A. in physics as well as his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering (neuroinformatics) from Dalian University of Technology, Dalian, China. While obtaining his Ph.D., Qingbao worked under Dr. Yiyuan Tang, where he performed fMRI and EEG studies to investigate functional brain connectivity during Chinese language tasks and gender differences in mental rotation tasks. Dr. Yu’s postdoctoral and research scientist research was conducted in Dr. Vince Calhoun’s laboratory at the Mind Research Network, Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he combined ICA and graph theory based analysis to examine brain connectivity in patients with schizophrenia. In May 2018, Dr. Yu joined ANP lab at NCCIH to work with Dr. Lauren Atlas.
View Dr. Yu's publications