Research in the laboratory

Our current research is primarily concerned with the development and maintenance of psychological and physical symptoms following traumatic experiences. For example, we seek to better understand the role of chronic pain, dissociative symptoms, and avoidance behaviors in the development and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder. Our research also focuses on anxiety and affective disorders.

How do we do it?

Using new experimental methods, such as the “conditioned intrusion paradigm” or the “script-based imagery paradigm”, we investigate both basal processes for learning and regulating emotions, which play an essential role in anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychophysiological and neurocognitive changes associated with certain psychological symptoms, such as dissociation, which could represent starting points for new therapeutic methods. These studies are conducted with both non-clinical and clinical samples.

Essential components of our studies are the recording of psychological symptoms and subjective feelings via interviews and questionnaires as well as the recording of physiological indicators of stress and emotions via psychophysiological and hormonal measurements and the recording of neuronal processes via fMRI measurements.

What are our current research interests?

In our current research, we are working on the development or modification of neurocognitively informed theories to explain the different symptom domains of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). From these, we derive specific hypotheses, which are tested in studies with experimental or correlational designs. Current studies are primarily concerned with the emergence of intrusive reexperiencing of traumatic content as a central symptom of PTSD. Here, the role of dissociative phenomena and medically unexplained pain as a consequence of traumatic experience is also investigated. In the studies, both subjective experiences and physiological measurement parameters are collected in order to capture as comprehensive a picture of PTSD and its symptoms as possible.

In the field of intrusion research, our latest study results suggest a possibly protective effect of estradiol levels with regard to intrusion development (to the article). We were recently able to prove the important role of classical conditioning theory in the formation of intrusive memories by means of sophisticated experiments (to the article). Furthermore, through innovative experiments in magnetic resonance imaging, we were able to show for the first time that classical conditioning theory could explain the emergence of pain experience after psychological traumatization (to the article). Nearly half of patients with PTSD experience pain in everyday life, for which often no medical causes are found and which is therefore difficult to treat.

In the field of research on dissociative phenomena during and in the wake of traumatic events, our recent study results suggest an important role of both negative emotions and physical pain. The studies also provide important clues to behavioral, physiological, and neural “markers” for dissociative states (to article 1 & article 2).