Projects

Some of our current projects are outlined below. Opportunities exist for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in our ongoing research activities or to develop new research studies in these areas.

  1. Emotion regulation choice in direct and indirect self-injury

Impaired emotion regulation is implicated prominently in self-injurious behaviors, yet we know relatively little about how individuals who engage in self-injury choose to regulate in response to negative and positive events, and whether these regulation choices differ across individuals who engage in distinct forms of self-injury (e.g., non-suicidal self-injury versus binge eating).  By focusing on emotion regulatory capacity, research on emotion regulation in self-injury has neglected choice: what strategies individuals with self-injury prefer to use, how frequently they do so, and whether distinct affective contexts (e.g., negative versus positive contexts) and individual differences (e.g.,  beliefs about emotion) differentially impact regulation choice for these groups.  This ongoing lab-based project examines emotion regulation choices in response to personalized and non-personalized emotional stimuli for individuls who engage in direct and indirect forms of self-injury.

2. Self-injury and pain sensitivity

Another focus of ongoing interest concerns the topic of pain sensitivity. We have documented aberrant pain sensitivity in healthy people who have a biological relative with schizophrenia, and methods to modify pain detection and sensitivity in individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury.  Upcoming projects further explore psychological and physical pain perception in people who suffer from borderline personality disorder or who engage in such self-injurious behaviors as cutting and burning.

3.  The "self" in self-injury: The roles of self-focus, self-concept, and self-presentation

A wealth of empirical evidence indicates that self-related factors--such as aversive self-awareness and an inconsistent, amorphous conceptualization self--contribute to a range of self-injurious behaviors.  Indeed, both the content  (e.g., negative self-esteem) and structure (e.g., consistent versus inconsistent) of one's self-concept influence one's likelihood of engaging in self-injury.  Yet, it remains relatively unknown whether, when, and how the malleability of self-concept--that is, the ability for individuals to access different components of themselves across different situations, places, people, and online platforms--relates to self-injury.  By focusing on the importance of the stability of the self, clinical research on self-injury has neglected a thorough examination of humans' ability to flexibly shift across aspects of self, and we therefore know very little about the extent to which this flexibility is helpful (or harmful) or intact (or impaired) in individuals with self-injury.  Upcoming projects seek to deepen our understanding of the role of self-concept structure and content in self-injury by targeting the malleability of the self-concept, and by better understanding the ways in which this malleability can be a double-edged sword.