The focus of our laboratory's work is to better understand the neural substrates of biologically relevant learning in the human. To this end, we study the human amygdala as a model system for such learning. Building upon animal and human research documenting the role of the amygdala in emotion, specifically fear, we aim to expose the more subtle abilities of this system in the modulation of moment-to-moment levels of vigilance.
Our work can be categorized under the umbrella of affective neuroscience. To be more precise, those that train in this laboratory are neuroscientists who study biologically relevant learning processes that can give rise to affect when appropriate. Thus, our working hypothesis is that the amygdala is more usefully conceptualized as a learning center that can give rise to emotion, rather than an emotion center that learns. Perhaps a title such as affective-cognitive neuroscience most appropriately describes our point of view.
The purpose of this web site is to introduce you to the members of our laboratory and to detail some of the research we have done towards examining the above ideas. You will see that through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in human subjects, we invoke numerous strategies to examine this model system. These include the study of facial expressions of emotion as well as more traditional Pavlovian conditioning studies. We apply these tasks to healthy control subjects and subjects with anxiety disorders. Taken together, this work offers a strategy for assessing one example of a model brain system which functions to support the facilitation of information processing related to predicting biologically relevant outcomes.
Paul Whalen's doctoral training in Physiological Psychology (at the University of Vermont with Bruce Kapp) comprised studies of the physiology and anatomy of the amygdala in animal subjects. His postdoctoral training (at Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital with Scott Rauch) involved a respecialization in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Currently, Dr. Whalen is a Professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College. Within his laboratory, he uses fMRI as a tool to ask the human amygdala very similar questions to those he asked of the amygdala in animal subjects.
Our laboratory is located in Moore Hall at Dartmouth College. Moore Hall houses Dartmouth's Psychological and Brain Sciences department. Essential to the operation of the Whalen Lab is the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center, also located in Moore Hall.
Click here to link to the web site for DBIC.