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Cognitive Correlates of Childhood Anxiety Disorders
This K23 proposal is a 5-year plan to develop the candidate, a child psychiatrist, into an independent researcher investigating the cognitive underpinnings of childhood anxiety disorders. The long-term goals are to become an academic researcher conducting developmental behavioral and neural studies of childhood anxiety disorders. This work will advance knowledge of pathophysiology, and lead to better prevention, assessment, and treatment methods.
The primary training objective is to develop a firm grounding in the cognitive and developmental sciences; the secondary training objectives are to learn fMRI methods, statistics, and anxiety research instruments. These skills will enable the candidate to conduct clinically oriented developmentally-based research using cognitive paradigms and fMRI to study the behavioral and neural underpinnings of childhood anxiety.
These objectives will be achieved through: 1) coursework in cognitive psychology, fMRI, and statistics; 2) extensive mentorship in a clinical/research environment, and 3) execution of two related studies that will contribute to a larger body of research investigating developmental relationships between cognition and anxiety.
The specific aims of the project are to examine: 1) behavioral differences in 2 cognitive processes, threat perception and emotional memory, in 8 to 12 year old children with and without anxiety disorders, and 2) neural differences, particularly in the amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and anterior cingulate (ACC) that underlie these cognitive processes. The aims are based on prior animal, adult, and preliminary child data that reveal strong associations between anxiety and selfreported fear, memory, and neurophysiologic changes in these three brain regions.
The central hypothesis is that childhood anxiety disorders are associated with enhanced perception and memory for threat stimuli, and that these behavioral biases correlate with enhanced amygdalar, OFC, and ACC activity. Dr. Maggie Bruck, an internationally renowned developmental cognitive psychologist, will serve as the primary mentor. A panel of 8 experts will each provide specialized training in an area that is critical to the candidate's development.