My research is actively carried out through the operations of my research lab, Compulsive, Obsessive, and Anxiety Program (C.O.A.P.). There are a multitude of ongoing research projects I am actively engaged in with graduate students to investigate my research interests outlined in detail below.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a complex and heterogeneous psychiatric condition that affects children, adolescents, and adults. It has been associated with a wide range of psychiatric disability and is generally considered difficult to treat, yet responsive to available empirically supported interventions. In generally, I have been interested in the nature and treatment of OCD, including maintaining factors, subtypes, complicating factors, assessment of severity, and general and specific cognitive factors.
This has lead to consideration of basic reconceptualization of the condition. Presently, there are several models for OCD, but none adequately accounts for the full diversity of the disorder.
Closely related to the work on OCD, my interest in anxiety disorders has also been concerned with maintaining factors and issues in cognitive-behavioral treatment. In particular, I have been interested in the following aspects of anxiety problems: Depersonalization: This is a common perceptual and cognitive disturbance associated with a wide range of psychiatric problems, but notably in several anxiety disorders such as panic and posttraumatic stress. Recent work has focused on methods of interventions for depersonalization. Health Anxiety: Previously health anxiety was more narrowly described as hypochondriasis. However, this fails to adequately account for cases where individuals struggle with heightened concerns over their health without a corresponding extreme belief that there is, in fact, a disease or illness present (as in hypochondriasis).
Disgust in Anxiety Disorders
Disgust is an understudied emotion. I have been actively investigating the role of disgust in phobias and contamination fear. Contamination fear is a problem that naturally fits with disgust. Disgust is a ‘communicable’ emotion, in that otherwise neutral objects have the capacity for taking on disgust properties. A common problem among individuals with contamination fear is the notion of objects becoming ‘contaminated’ following incidental contact with items believed to be contaminated as well. Disgust also plays a prominent role in other anxiety disorders and states. Most notably, research has supported a role for disgust in blood-injury-injection phobia, and in insect and small animal phobias. However, as illustrated in a recent edited text (Olatunji & McKay, 2009), disgust has been associated with a wide range of other psychiatric conditions.
Misophonia, also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity, is associated with strong negative emotional reactions to specific sounds (such as chewing, tapping, or certain voices). Sufferers often have a range of environmental prompts (also called triggers) that alert them to the possible aversive sounds, and these triggers are also frequently avoided. Little is known regarding this condition, but sufferers report significant interference. Research in the lab has focused on characteristics associated with the condition, and interventions to alleviate symptoms.
Anxiety and Stress Related to Pandemics
Public health concerns around contracting diseases also activates a highly varied range of unique psychological stressors. Managing these stressors has been the subject of intense scrutiny leading to, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic. One evolved mechanism that is involved in pandemic stress is the behavioral immune system, a process that engages emotional reactions (i.e., fear, disgust) and social responses to aid people in avoiding unseen pathogen threats. The lab has been engaged in research on these stressors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to investigate causes and consequences of fears of pathogens.