Division of Intramural Research
Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain
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 multimodal: 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.
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 multimodal approach to investigate how expectations and learning influence pain and emotion, and how these factors influence clinical outcomes.
Titilola Akintola, Ph.D., Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow
Lola Akintola is a visiting postdoctoral fellow who will be investigating the mechanisms of expectation effects on pain using neuroimaging and behavioral approaches. Lola received her B.Sc. in biology from Morgan State University and her Ph.D. in toxicology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where she studied under the mentorship of Dr. Luana Colloca. Lola’s doctoral work investigated pain modulation in chronic pain and healthy populations using both preclinical and clinical models of pain. Specifically, her project employed a translational approach to investigate how Placebo Analgesia is altered in chronic neuropathic pain. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sabrina Barhoum, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Sabrina Barhoum is a postbac IRTA research fellow who is currently studying the neural and psychological mechanisms of pain perception, particularly expectation and pain relief. Sabrina attended Muhlenberg College and received her B.S. in neuroscience and minor in philosophy. She spent her undergraduate years working in Dr. Gretchen Gotthard’s lab, where she evaluated the disruption of memory and memory reconsolidation using virtual reality. This research focused on proposing future treatment for memory-based disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder, and was presented as a poster at the Society for Neuroscience Convention in 2019. She completed a grant proposal investigating the association between media multitasking and negative affect in children under the mentorship of Dr. Matthieu de Wit, and presented a formal talk about the extended mind theory and technology under the guidance of Dr. Jeremy Teissere. Her other research interests and proposed areas of study include childhood psychopathology, cognition, and neural plasticity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jama Brookes, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Jama Brookes is a postbac IRTA research fellow who is currently assisting in understanding biopsychosocial processes in pain perception and expressions. She will create and analyze psychophysiological stimuli to study health disparities in pain. Jama received a B.S. in psychology with a minor in medical humanities from Appalachian State University. While completing her undergraduate degree, Jama worked under three research professors in the departments of biochemistry, psychology, and economics. She researched P450 modulation, moral aspects of blame, and the role of sleep in monetary decision making, respectively. While at NIH, she hopes to further investigate the social and cultural factors that influence the physician-patient relationship in pain treatment. Outside of lab, Jama enjoys dancing, hiking, whitewater rafting, and watercolor painting. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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.
Maya Joshi Delity, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Maya Joshi Delity is a postbac IRTA research fellow who will be investigating psychological processes on chronic pain, as well as mechanisms of expectation effects on pain. To this end, she will gather and analyze neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and participant self-report data. Maya received her B.A. in psychology from Boston University, where she studied under the mentorship of Dr. Nicholas Wagner in the Biobehavioral and Social Emotional Lab. Her honors thesis examined the impact of overreactive parenting on childhood anxiety and the moderating role of children’s parasympathetic nervous system. During her undergraduate studies, Maya also studied trauma-related disorders and mood disorders under the guidance of Dr. Nathaniel Harnett, Dr. Lauren Lebois, and Dr. Kerry Ressler at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Outside of the lab, Maya enjoys taking long walks, cooking, and reading.
Julie Parsons, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Julie Parsons is a postbac IRTA fellow who is currently assisting in research pertaining to the neurological and physiological expressions of pain, as well as interpretations of pain. She hopes to continue within this line of questioning to see how negative affect or experiences differ from those of pain within the neurological and physiological expression of individuals. Julie received a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in biochemistry from Lee University, where she worked with Dr. Bryan Poole to study the effects of various social influences on emotion perception in individuals. During her undergraduate studies, she also worked with Dr. Sarah Schlosser to study the intersection of chemistry education and psychological impact of perception. Her research goals include continuing to look at the intersection of negative affect and experiences on the physiological health of individuals with the intent of developing methods that improve physiological health by better understanding the effects of affect. Outside of the lab, Julie enjoys hiking, yoga, reading, cooking, and exploring the D.C. area. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julio Yanes, Ph.D., Postdoctoral IRTA Fellow
Julio Yanes, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral IRTA fellow. His research interests include cognitive neuroscience, substance use/abuse, and pain. During his time in the lab, Julio is using behavioral, computational, and functional neuroimaging approaches to examine appetitive and aversive processing in the brain and how these processes are modulated by alcohol and alcohol expectancies. Julio is also an NIH Center of Compulsive Behavior Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive and behavioral sciences from Auburn University where he worked with Dr. Jennifer Robinson. Julio’s graduate work, which was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse via a Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, involved using ultra-high field neuroimaging to characterize pain-related brain responses in recreational cannabis users. He can be reached at email@example.com.
View Dr. Yanes's publications
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
Carolyn Amir, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Carolyn Amir served as a post-bac IRTA research fellow, studying the effects of psychological processes on pain perception in healthy adults.
Nicole Antkiewicz, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Nicole Antkiewicz served as a post-bac IRTA who investigated the effects of bias on pain perception and expression in healthy adults.
Lauren Banker, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Lauren is now a Ph.D. student in the Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida.
Molly Cosgrove, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Molly Cosgrove was a postbac IRTA fellow in the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain.
Elena Do, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Elena Do was a postbac IRTA research fellow who investigated social discrimination on pain.
Shara Grant, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Inseon Lee, Ph.D., Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Lee is now faculty at Kyung Hee University.
View Dr. Lee's publications
Dominik Mischkowski, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Mischkowski is now an Assistant Professor at Ohio University.
Margaret Rose-McCandlish, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Margaret Rose-McCandlish was a postbac IRTA research fellow who studied the effects of psychological processes on pain perception and expression in healthy adults.
Elizabeth Necka, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Necka is now a AAAS fellow at NIMH.
View Dr. Necka's publications
Olga Oretsky, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Esther Palacios-Barrios, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Esther is now a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Chrissy is now a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. (No Image Available)
Rachel Weger, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow
Rachel Weger was a postbac IRTA research fellow. She gathered and analyzed psychophysiologial measures and participant self-report in healthy adults to study health disparities in pain.
(from left): Bethany Sauls, Summer Student; Bethany Leidl, Summer, Student; Caitlin Stavish, Special Volunteer; Lauren Banker, Summer Student
- Atlas LY, Sandman CF, Phelps EA. Rating expectations can slow aversive learning. Psychophysiology. 2021 Nov 27 [epub ahead of print].
- Abend R, Ruiz SG, Bajaj MA, Harrewijn A, Linke JO, Atlas LY, Pine DS. Threat imminence reveals distinct links among anxiety, anticipatory physiological response, and cortical-subcortical intrinsic functional connectivity. Neurobiology of Stress. 2022;16:100428.
- Han X, Ashar YK, Kragel P, Petre B, Schelkun V, Atlas LY, Chang LJ, Jepma M, Koban L, Losin EAR, Roy M, Woo C-W, Wager TD. Effect size and test-retest reliability of the fMRI-based neurologic pain signature. Neuroimage. 2021;247:118844.
- Atlas LY. A social affective neuroscience lens on placebo analgesia. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2020;25(11):992-1005.
- Lebedev AV, Acar K, Garzón B, Almeida R, Råback J, Åberg A, Martinsson S, Olsson A, Martinsson S, Olsson A, Louzolo A, Pärnamets P, Lövden M, Atlas LY, Ingvar M, Petrovic P. Psychedelic drug use and schizotypy in young adults. Scientific Reports, 2021;11(1):15058.
- Necka EA, Amir C, Dildine TC, Atlas LY. Expectations about pain and analgesic treatment are shaped by medical providers’ facial appearances: evidence from five online clinical simulation experiments. Social Science & Medicine. 2021;281:114091.
- Mischkowski D, Stavish CM, Palacios-Barrios EE, Banker LA, Dildine TC, Atlas LY. Dispositional mindfulness and acute heat pain: comparing stimulus-evoked pain with summary pain assessment. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2021;83(6):539-548.
- Abend R, Bajaj MA, Harrewijn A, Matsumoto C, Michalska KJ, Necka E, Palacios-Barrios EE, Liebenluft E, Atlas LY, Pine DS. Threat-anticipatory psychophysiological response is enhanced in pediatric anxiety and correlates with prefrontal cortex structure. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 2021;46(2):E212-E221.
- Zunhammer M, Spisák T, Wager TD, Bingel U, Placebo Imaging Consortium. Meta-analysis of neural systems underlying placebo analgesia from individual participant fMRI data. Nature communications. 2021;12(1):1391. (Member of Placebo Imaging Consortium).
- Evers AWM, Colloca L, Blease C, Gaab J, Jensen KB, Atlas LY, et al. “Consensus on placebo and nocebo effects connects science and practice: reply to “Questioning the consensus on placebo and nocebo effects”. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2021;90(3):213-214. (Pain Research Forum Editors’ Pick).
- Dildine TC, Necka EA, Atlas LY. Confidence in subjective pain is predicted by reaction time during decision making. Scientific Reports. 2020;10(1):21373.
- Gruber J, Mendle J, Lindquist KA, Schmader T, Clark LA, Bliss-Moreau E, Akintola M, Atlas LY, et al. The future of women in psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science.
- Leknes S, Atlas LY. Flawed methodology undermines conclusions about opioid-induced pleasure: implications for psychopharmacology. British Journal of Anesthesia. 2020;124(3):e29-e33.
- Geuter S, Roy M, Reynolds Losin EA, Atlas LY, Schmidt L, Krishnan A, Koban L, Wager TD, Lindquist MA. Multiple brain networks mediating stimulus-pain relationships in humans. Cerebral Cortex. 2020;30(7):4204-4219.
- Rahnev D, Desender K, Lee ALF, Adler WT, Aguilar-lleyda D, Akdogan B, Arbuzova P, Atlas LY, et al. The confidence database. Nature Human Behaviour. 2020;4:317-325.
- Zheng W, Woo CW, Yao Z, Goldstein P, Atlas LY, Roy M, Schmidt L, Krishnan A, Jepma M, Hu B, Wager TD. Pain-evoked reorganization in functional brain networks. Cerebral Cortex. 2020;30(5):2804-2822.
- Lee IS, Necka EA, Atlas LY. Distinguishing pain from nociception, salience, and arousal: how autonomic nervous system activity can improve neuroimaging tests of specificity. Neuroimage. 2020;204:116254.
- Atlas LY, Palacios-Barrios E, Dildine TC, et al. (In press). Anxious individuals update expectations and reported pain in response to instructions during aversive reversal learning, but maintain sustained arousal for initial threats. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
- Necka EA, Lee IS, Kucyi A, Cheng JC, Yu Q, Atlas LY. Applications of dynamic functional connectivity to pain and its modulation. Pain Reports. 2019;4(4):e752.
- Dildine TC, Atlas LY. The need for diversity in research on facial expressions of pain. Pain. 2019;160(8):1901-1902.
- Mischkowski D, Atlas LY. Reply to Zaman et al. Pain. 2019;160(6):1485-1486.
- Mischkowski D, Palacios-Barrios E, Banker LA, Dildine TC, Atlas LY. Pain or nociception? Subjective experience mediates the effects of heat on autonomic responses–corrected and republished. Pain. 2019;160(6):1469-1481.
- Atlas LY. How instructions shape aversive learning: higher order knowledge, reversal learning, and the role of the amygdala. Current Opinions in Behavioral Sciences. 2019;26:121-129.
- Atlas LY, Doll BB, Li J, Daw ND, Phelps EA. How instructed knowledge shapes adaptive learning. PsyArXiv. 2018;doi:10.31234/osf.io/f4sh9.
- Atlas LY, al’Absi M. The neuroscience of pain: biobehavioral, developmental, and psychosocial mechanisms relevant to intervention targets. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2018;80(9):788-790.
- Case LK, Laubacher CM, Richards EA, Grossman M, Atlas LY, Parker S, Bushnell MC. Is placebo analgesia for heat pain a sensory effect? An exploratory study on minimizing the influence of response bias. Neurobiology of Pain. 2019;5:100023.
- Zunhammer M, Bingel U, Wager TD, Atlas LY, et al. Placebo effects on the neurologic pain signature: a meta-analysis of individual participant functional magnetic resonance imaging data. JAMA Neurology. 2018;75(11):1321-1330.
- Michalska KJ, Feldman JS, Abend R, Gold AL, Dildine TC, Palacios-Barrios EE, Leibenluft E, Towbin KE, Pine DS, Atlas LY. Anticipatory effects on perceived pain: associations with development and anxiety. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2018;80(9):853-860.
- Evers AWM, Colloca L, Blease C, Klinger R, Annoni M, Atlas LY, et al. Implications of placebo and nocebo effects for clinical practice: expert consensus. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2018;87(4):204-210.
- Moayedi M, Salomons TV, Atlas LY. Pain neuroimaging in humans: a primer for beginners and non-imagers. Journal of Pain. 2018;19(9):961.e1-961.e21.
- Atlas LY, Phelps EA. Prepared stimuli enhance aversive learning without weakening the impact of verbal instructions. Learning & Memory. 2018;25(2):100-104.
- Necka EA, Atlas LY. The role of social and interpersonal factors in placebo analgesia. In: Colloca L, ed. Neurobiology of the Placebo Effect, Part I. International Review of Neurobiology. Vol. 138. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press; 2018:161-179.
- Atlas LY. How are emotions regulated by context and cognition? The role of context and cognition in the placebo effect. In: Fox AS, Lapate RC, Shackman AJ, et al, eds. The Nature of Emotion. Fundamental Questions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2018:158-161.
- Woo C-W, Schmidt L, Krishnan A, Jepma M, Roy M, Lindquist M, Atlas LY, Wager TD. Quantifying cerebral contributions to pain beyond nociception. Nature Communications. 2017;8:14211.
- Atlas LY, Doll BB, Li J, Daw NE, Phelps EA. Instructed knowledge shapes feedback-driven aversive learning in striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, but not the amygdala. eLife. 2016;5:e15192.
- Wager TD, Atlas LY. The neuroscience of placebo effects: connecting context, learning, and health. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2015;16:403-418.
- Robinson LF*, Atlas LY*, Wager TD. Dynamic functional connectivity using State-based Dynamic Community Structure: method and application to opioid analgesia. Neuroimage. 2015;108:274-291. *Equal authorship contributions.
- Atlas LY, Wager TD. A meta-analysis of brain mechanisms of placebo analgesia: consistent findings and unanswered questions. In: Benedetti F, Enck P, Frisaldi E, Schedlowski M, eds. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology—Placebo. 2014;225:37-69.
- Atlas LY, Lindquist MA, Bolger N, et al. Brain mediators of the effects of noxious heat on pain. Pain. 2014;155(8):1632-1648.
- Atlas LY, Wielgosz J, Whittington RA, et al. Specifying the non-specific factors underlying opioid analgesia: expectancy, attention, and affect. Psychopharmacology. 2014;231(5):813-823.