Physiology and Neurocience
Arizona Health Sciences Center
The broad goal my research is to understand the neural basis of emotion and social behavior. I use non-human primates as a model system for normal and pathological emotions generated in the context of social behavior. The experiments involve eliciting facial expressions and other social behaviors in monkeys while recording neural activity from the amygdala and in other components of the social brain. We monitor simultaneously several autonomic parameters of emotion: e.g., skin conductance, pupil diameter, and heart rate. These experiments reveal the real-time dynamic interaction of multiple systems implicated in emotion regulation and the mechanisms by which emotions and social behaviors produce overt, behavioral and covert, organ-level effects. Recent experiments supported by the Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Behavior showed that intra-amygdala administration of oxytocin enhances basic social behaviors, such as eye contact and gaze following. We are currently engaged in exploring the effect of oxytocin on the neural populations that support these behaviors. Ongoing collaborations with the laboratories of Dr. Elizabeth Buffalo and Dr. Lisa Parr inform and complement our findings focused on the amygdala.