Dr Natalia Lawrence
Senior Lecturer (in Translational Medicine)

Research

Research interests

I am interested in how our brains process emotions, from responses to simple rewards and facial expressions, to more complex mood states induced experimentally. I investigate how these emotional responses influence behaviour, through mechanisms like attentional bias, affective priming and associative learning. Finally, can we exert cognitive control over our emotions and (unconscious) desires or do they control us?

My research uses functional neuroimaging (fMRI), psychophysiological (measures of arousal) and experimental psychological techniques to examine emotion processing, emotion regulation and decision-making in mood disorders (bipolar disorder, depression and vulnerability to suicide) and behavioural addictions (over-eating, problem gambling). I also conduct research into how emotional processes relate to personality traits in healthy individuals, in order to understand factors associated with the vulnerability to these disorders.

More recently, I have been working on translating my research into psychological interventions of relevance to obesity (reducing food consumption through inhibitory control training). I plan to extend this line of research (using cognitive and attentional control training to improve emotion regulation) to other populations (smokers, patients with mood disorders). My research also seeks to understand how these therapies work at neural and cognitive levels, e.g. by examining whether they provide enduring changes in automatic / implicit, as well as controlled / explicit processes. For more information please go to http://www.exeter.ac.uk/foodt/

Research projects

  • Understanding behavioural ‘addictions’; examining the role of motivation / reward processing and self control in over-eating and problem gambling using brain imaging (fMRI, MEG).
  • Does inhibitory control training reduce compulsive behaviour / excessive approach motivation? (http://www.exeter.ac.uk/foodt/)
  • Reward sensitivity in bipolar disorder and depression.
  • Neural and psychological mechanisms underpinning the vulnerability to suicidal behaviour (in collaboration with Dr. Fabrice Jollant, McGill, Montreal).

Grants

 “Understanding how social identities shape empathy and failures to empathize: A social neuroscience approach", PhD studentship funded by Dstl (MoD), co-supervisor. (2013-2017 £140,855)

“Do disturbances in reward system function predict current and future mood disorder symptoms and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours? A community cohort prospective study” Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund PI: Dunn, co-I: Lawrence (2013-2015 £67,401)

“Brain training to reduce over-eating; a translational pilot study” Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund PI (2013-2014 £18,539)

WICN Program Grant “Neural correlates of problem gambling” (£37, 242 co-investigator)

WICN Program Grant “Inhibitory control in the desire for food” (£24, 525 co-investigator)

WICN Project Grant “Neural basis of the Hypersensitivity to Emotions in Bipolar Disorder” (£15, 687, PI)

WICN Project Grant “Neuroimaging risk markers of depression in young adults: a preliminary study” (£14, 232, co-investigator)

Research networks

I have active research collaborations with colleagues in the UK at the University of Bristol (Prof. Marcus Munafo, Prof. Ian Penton-Voak, Dr. Ella Hinton) and the University of Cardiff (Dr. Chris Chambers, Prof. Andrew Lawrence, Dr. Xavier Caseras). I also collaborate with researchers in the Netherlands (Dr. Harm Veling, Radboud University), USA (Prof. Mary Phillips at the University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute) and in Australia (Prof. Petra Staiger, Deakin University; Prof. Eva Kemps, Flinders University).

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