Research

Research

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Bringing Mobile Technology into Neuropsychiatric Assessment

Cognition and Mental Health


Bringing Mobile Technology into Neuropsychiatric Assessment

The core activity of the BaCH Tech Lab is the development, validation, and dissemination of methods for accurately and precisely assessing cognitive and psychological functions in individuals across the lifespan, to understand how cognition is related to mental and physical health.

Citizen Science
Our research and technology development is driven by the participation of about 800-1000 citizen scientists every day through TestMyBrain.org. These are people from all over the world who want to contribute to research and learn more about their own minds and brains. By providing interesting, individualized research results to our participants, we have been able to recruit and test over 1.7 million people since 2008. We have also enrolled over 35,000 people into the Citizen Science for Brain Health (CS4B) community.

Creating Tools for Web/Mobile Neuropsychiatric Assessment
Good science depends on good tools. One of our primary goals as a lab is to translate traditional assessment tools from cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuropsychology, and clinical neuropsychiatry to web platforms and mobile devices, for self-administration. Our goal is to create tools that are as sensitive, reliable, engaging, and accessible as possible across a wide range of participants and technology platforms. We achieve this by using the Iterative Translation Method, which takes principles from software and user interface design (e.g. A/B testing, iterative development, and modular architecture) and applies them to the optimization and validation of neuropsychiatric assessments.

Quantifying Behavior
Finally, our work aims to bridge the gap between formal assessment and real-world behavior. In the modern information age, the ubiquity of traditional and mobile computers means that there are new opportunities to capture behavior in what is (for about 90% of adults in the United States) the naturalistic setting of a webpage or mobile application. Using modern psychometrics combined with machine learning, we are developing methods for quantifying cognitive health and psychological function outside of traditional “testing” paradigms.

Collaborators:
Jeremy Wilmer, Psychology, Wellesley College
Ken Nakayama, Psychology, Harvard University
Josh Hartshorne, Psychology, Boston College
Katharina Reinecke, Computer Science, University of Washington
Krzysztof Gajos, Computer Science, Harvard University


Cognition and Mental Health: Interindividual Differences

One way we can understand how cognition and health are related is by focusing on differences between people. In other words, how do we differ from one another in the way we understand the world and other people? How are those differences related to our mental, cognitive, and psychological health? A major area of focus for this work is on individual differences in social cognition. As fundamentally social creatures, humans are able to rapidly and accurately decipher information about what others around them are thinking and feeling. When those fundamental capacities are disrupted, difficulties follow in navigating social relationships, adaptively responding to changes in the social environment, and building and maintaining social support. Here, we specifically investigate participants with social deficits – due to differences in either genes and environments – as well as exceptional social abilities, to understand how social information processing contributes to mental, cognitive, and psychological health.

Current Projects:
Neurocognitive Genomics (Collaborators: Jordan Smoller, Caitlin Carey, 23andme)
Behavioral Genetics of Attention (Collaborators: Jeremy Wilmer, Hrag Pallian, Gabriella Blokland)
Childhood Adversity and Social Cognition (Collaborators: Erin Dunn, Kate McLaughlin)
Harvard Football Players’ Health Study: Brain and Behavior
World Mental Health College Student Surveys (Collaborators: Ron Kessler, Randy Auerbach, Jen Green)

Cognition and Mental Health: Intraindividual Differences

In addition to trying to understand how people differ from one another, we also seek to understand how variations within an individual might be related to changes in their health and cognitive functioning. These include long-term changes such as ways that our brains change due to development and aging across our lifespan. It also includes short-term changes, which reflect how changes in our neurocognitive function – for example our attention, processing speed, memory, and decision-making – might be driven by physiological, environmental, and psychological factors like mood, blood glucose, etc.

Current Projects:
NIMH Aurora Project – Adverse Neuropsychiatric Sequelae of Trauma
Short and Long-Term Changes in Neurocognition in Adults with Type 1 Diabetes
Emotion Processing Across the Lifespan
Characterizing Changes in Attention from Middle Life to Older Age