Anxiety studies division
Christine Purdon and David Moscovitch
For some people, anxiety is the norm, not the exception, and their fears make it hard for them to meet family, work, and social obligations. The Anxiety Studies Division seeks to understand anxiety better so we can better help people who suffer from it.
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Child and adolescent neuropsychology
How do we learn to juggle competing demands for our time, shift priorities, and keep track of important information? Executive functioning refers to skills that promote this kind of purposeful behaviour. Work in our lab investigates how executive skills change with age and why they are important in a developmental context.
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Cognitive development lab
How do children learn to successfully navigate their social worlds? Dr. Nilsen and students in her Cognitive Development Lab examine how children acquire the ability to develop into effective communicators and explore the underlying cognitive skills that facilitate this progress. Researchers within the lab also examine how various psychological characteristics may interfere with typical communicative development.
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Our lab investigates the role that shame and self-criticism play in the development and maintenance of eating disorders, and the role that self-compassion can play in helping to alleviate eating disorder pathology. Through our research, we aim to inspire new, more effective ways of preventing and treating eating disorders.
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In collaboration with Dr. Pamela Sadler and the students in our labs, we are examining how people, as they interact, tend to coordinate variations in their interpersonal behavior, such that the moment-to-moment variation in their control and affiliation behaviours shows rhythmic entrainment between partners. There are striking differences in the extent to which various partners become attuned to each other and “on the same wavelength,” which we study by using innovative 3D graphing techniques and time-series statistical indices. One of our current interests is the occurrence and effects of these entrainment processes during psychotherapy sessions. A list of relevant publications and a presentation using 3D graphics to illustrate patterns of entrainment between interacting partners are available at Dr. Woody's profile.
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Christine Purdon; Erik Woody
Dr. Purdon is interested in how anxiety disorders develop and why they persist. Along with her students she is studying what happens when people with anxiety problems try to suppress unwanted thoughts. How do attempts to control thoughts actually affect their frequency? What happens when control efforts fail? This research has particular implications for understanding why obsessions develop and persist. More recently, she has become interested in why compulsions persist. Her research group is looking at the impact of repeated actions on doubt and certainty about whether an action has been performed correctly. Finally, Dr. Purdon also interested in changes in attentional focus that happen when people become anxious.
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Dr. Woody’s research on OCD, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Henry Szechtman at McMaster University, addresses the hypothesis that OCD represents a dysfunction in the normal termination of activity in a specially adapted, hard-wired brain circuit, the security motivation system (SMS), which evolved to handle the detection of, and responses to, different domains of potential threats, such as the possibility of contamination or predation. A list of publications reporting studies of this hypothesis and its implications is available on
Dr. Woody's profile.
Jonathan Oakman; Walter Mittelstaedt
The Psychotherapy Intervention Research Team studies processes and effectiveness of psychotherapy as conducted at the Centre for Mental Health Research. Using a combination of single case and group designs, Drs. Oakman and Mittelstaedt are particularly interested in finding ways to bridge research findings related to psychological intervention to practice in usual treatment settings.
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Intuition suggests that strong intimate relationships play a vital role in our health and well-being. Empirical research not only supports this perspective, but also demonstrates that the influence of positive relationships may be more wide-ranging and far-reaching than we imagined. In our research, we investigate the ways in which intimate relationships impact people’s ability to respond to a range of stressors and challenges in their lives and how the relationships, themselves, are changed by such experiences.
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How do you relate to yourself at times of failure, disappointment, and distress? Our research investigates the effects of treating yourself critically and harshly versus kindly and compassionately. We study the ways in which deliberate self-compassion practices, involving mindfulness, imagery, and self-talk, can reduce various forms of distress and promote constructive behaviour change.
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Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is a highly disabling mental health problem that affects approximately 12% of the population, or almost 4 million Canadian adults. People with social anxiety disorder feel terrified of having to interact with others or perform activities while being observed. Why does social anxiety develop? Why does it persist and often worsen over time? How does it impede normal functioning? Can psychological treatments help and, if so, how do they work? These questions drive the experimental and clinical research conducted at the CMHRT by Dr. David Moscovitch and his students. To learn more, visit Dr. Moscovitch's profile.
Statistical procedures for clinical research
Erik Woody; Jonathan Oakman
Dr. Woody does research on statistical procedures for use in clinical research, such as the evaluation of mediating processes, and the study of interdependence in interpersonal behaviour. A list of recent publications is available on Dr. Woody's profile.
Dr. Oakman’s research compares various statistical methods for analyzing single case design, in particular those that are used to evaluate outcomes of mental health interventions.
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