Research projects

Project 1

The effect of alcohol on moral decision-making and risk taking behavior - a laboratory experiment

Alcohol consumption is frequently associated with enhanced aggression and impulsivity. Little work has been conducted on the acute effects of alcohol in an experimental setting where it is possible to establish the causal effects of alcohol on decision-making. We have just concluded a study which investigated how alcohol intoxication in social drinkers affects the perception of moral inclination, and financial risk-taking. Results coming soon!

Project 2

The behavioral and neural mechanisms of alcohol choice preference

Alcohol dependent patients often face interpersonal, economic and health issues. These issues strongly affect patients’ quality of life and are themselves a major cause of relapse, setting up a vicious circle. Despite these negative consequences, alcohol dependent patients continue to consume alcohol and prioritise alcohol over healthy rewards, features that set alcoholism apart from recreational alcohol use. This fall, we will start a new project that aims at characterising the mechanisms behind choosing alcohol at the expense of valuable alternative rewards.

Project 3

Enhancing endocannabinoid tone to treat PTSD

The endocannabinoid system is a neuromodulatory system implicated in stress reactivity and emotion processing. Recently, it has been proposed as a potential novel target to treat stress-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We have shown that enhancing levels of the endocannabinoid ligand anandamide can facilitate the extinction of learned fear responses and protect against the negative effects of stress in healthy adults. The current project will determine whether this mechanism can facilitate PTSD treatment when combined with an exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition to clinical outcomes, we will also obtain neural and psychophysiological biomarkers of emotional learning and stress reactivity. Together, this project has the potential to improve the clinical care of PTSD patients and elucidate novel biomarkers of treatment response. This project is a collaborative effort between Markus Heilig (clinical component) and Leah Mayo (laboratory component).

Project 4

Morphine effects on social stress response and social interaction

Opioid addiction is a major cause of death and disability, but the neurobiological mechanisms behind initiation and maintenance of opioid use remain largely unknown. Social factors as well as relief from negative affective states are clinically thought to contribute, but have largely been neglected by neurobiological studies. The present study therefore aims to investigate opioid effects on social interaction and its interplay with affective and physiological responses to laboratory induced stress. We hypothesize that an initial negative affective state resulting from stress-induction will influence opioid effects on social interaction and affective responses. We will test this by administrating morphine or placebo (saline) in healthy participants and using a combined facial electromyography (fEMG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique. Findings of the present project may offer insights leading to the development of novel prevention management and treatment strategies for opioid addiction and relapse.