Current Finn Lab Research
Broadly speaking, we are interested in understanding the self-regulatory problems associated with Alcohol Use Disorder and Substance use disorders, as well as externalizing psychopathology and behavioral disinhibition in general. Alcohol use disorder essentially reflects substantial problems regulating alcohol use such that one sees excessive binge-like drinking patterns, patterns of out of control drinking once one starts drinking (drinking far more than planned), drinking at times when it will interfere with responsibilities, put one at risk for interpersonal or legal consequences, and drinking so much that one experiences numerous health consequences.
Our primary focus has been on investigating the cognitive, motivational, and neural processes associated with impulsive and/or risky decision making in those with alcohol and other substance use disorder and in those with high levels of externalizing psychopathology. High levels of impulsivity and risk taking are hallmarks of substance use disorders and externalizing psychopathology. We have found that lower levels of executive working memory capacity (attention control), intelligence, and general executive cognitive ability are associated impulsive/risky decision making and alcohol / substance use problems and general externalizing behavior problems. We also find that social contexts that vary in party incentives and disincentives are strong predictors of decisions about drinking and that those with problems with alcohol or behavioral problems in general respond somewhat differently to contextualized incentives and disincentives to drink.
Our studies of the neural processes associated with decision making and emotion regulation implicate various brain structures associated with executive function (i.e., frontal areas, anterior cingulate cortex), emotion regulation (e.g., the amygdala), and perception (visual cortex) are implicated in poor decision making and emotion regulation problems in these populations.
Our research also shows that if you compromise attention control (executive working memory) this leads to increased impulsive/risky decisions. Current studies are underway that examine whether we can “train” subjects to increase their capacity to control their attention, possibly leading to improved self-control of behavior and emotional responses and less propensity to engage in risky behavior. Other interests include developing mobile app technologies to sample and investigate drinking decisions in real-life contexts, and developing ways of teaching people