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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Lebenswissen­schaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Psychologie

Qualifikationsarbeiten

Übersicht über ausgeschriebene Qualifikationsarbeiten

 

MA: A large-scale meta-analysis on the brain’s structural alterations in specific phobia

 

Specific phobia is one of the most common mental disorders, characterized by marked and unproportional fear and anxiety or frequent avoidance of a phobic object or situation, and has been used as a model disorder to investigate the neural processing of fear and fear circuitry dysfunctions. Research on potential alterations in structural brain anatomy however are still scarce, although these may underlie the disorder-related functional changes and thus yield valuable insights in the neurobiology of specific phobia related pathogenic mechanisms. Additionally, since specific phobia can be divided into subtypes with partly different behavioral, autonomic and neural response patterns (e.g. animal vs blood-injection-injury subtype), comparing the neurostructural correlates of different phobia subtypes may provide further information about the underpinnings of their phenomenological differences and potentially valuable for optimizing their treatment. Finally, anxiety disorders including specific phobia increase the risk of subsequent depressive disorders, and earlier studies strongly suggest that comorbid depressive symptoms influence functional activation patterns in many areas associated with anxiety disorders including specific phobia. However, it is unclear whether this effect also holds true for neurostructural alterations.

            Embedded within the ENIGMA initiative (http://enigma.ini.usc.edu/), this thesis provides the opportunity to work within the Psychotherapy chair’s project ENIGMA-specific phobia and help closing these open research questions by employing a large-scale meta-analysis on the neurostructural alterations in specific phobia. Our workgroup will provide an organized workshop on the fundamentals of MRI data analysis. Nevertheless, if you are interested in this master thesis proposal, basic knowledge in clinical neuroimaging is required. The thesis project should start around January 2019. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Kevin Hilbert.

 

 

MA: Interoception and emotional-associative learning: the effect of loaded breathing on fear conditioning parameters in the anxiety sensitivity phenotype and initial panic attacks

Interoception is a fundamental process of the brain and intimately related to a wide range of disorders, particularly from the anxiety spectrum, in which interoceptive signals are often experienced as aversive. Even in healthy and subclinical populations, the trait anxiety sensitivity signifies a tendency to habitually respond with anxiety and fear towards interoceptive signals. Additionally, the experience of these interoceptive signals is likely to be more shaped by previous experience than by the actual interoceptive sensations and mediated by the properties interoceptive network. When interoception occurs in the context emotional-associative learning, previous experience and thus the interaction between individual interoception and conditioning networks on the neural level have to be taken into account. A better understanding of this interaction may help us gain further insight into how increasing levels of subclinical psychopathology develop into higher rates of full-blown clinical anxiety as reported by epidemiological studies. Interoceptive conditioning models are of high interest for gaining this understanding.

           Embedded within the Psychotherapy chair’s project on interoception and emotional-associative learning, this thesis provides the opportunity to conduct a thesis with a strong experimental focus. Several research questions may be targeted, for instance on the detection thresholds for interoceptive stimuli across different risk groups for anxiety, on differences in subjective valence of these stimuli depending on individual anxiety sensitivity levels, or on the comparison of conditioning parameters depending on whether the US is interoceptive or exteroceptive. Our workgroup will provide considerable support on the setup and processing of these studies. Nevertheless, if you are interested in this master thesis proposal, a strong experimental interest and the willingness to participate in the different stages of data acquisition (e.g. telephone screenings, laboratory measurements) are required. The thesis project should start around April 2019. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Kevin Hilbert.

 

 

MA: Elucidating the interaction of anxiety sensitivity and smoking in interoceptive processing

Smoking and panic symptomatology/ disorder frequently co-occur. Although many cross-sectional studies demonstrated increased rates of smoking and nicotine dependence (ND) in individuals with panic disorder (PD) and panic symptoms, there is limited literature that has prospectively examined this comorbidity. The most consistent evidence however, supports smoking and ND to increase the risk of anxiety disorders in general and PD specifically. Anxiety sensitivity (AS) defined as a trait, reflecting the extent to which individuals believe anxiety related sensations have harmful consequences, could be associated with different aspects of cigarette smoking (i.e. the belief that smoking will reduce negative affect and less success in smoking cessation attempts). Furthermore, laboratory studies examined that interoceptive sensations (manipulated through biological challenges like CO2-inhalation) are frequently misinterpreted by healthy smokers compared to non-smokers and subsequently amplify anxious responding. Moreover, nicotine affects memory and learning processes, especially withdrawal from nicotine results in learning deficits. However, the relationship between interoceptive processing and associative learning in healthy or diseased smokers vs. non-smokers was not investigated in former research. The interaction of smoking and AS during interoceptive processing (loaded breathing) and interoceptive emotional-associative learning is therefore targeted in this study.

           This thesis provides the opportunity to work within the psychotherapy chair’s experimental “interoceptive-project” using a spirometry to measure and manipulate breathing. We will at first screen and then recruit healthy individuals presenting different manifestations in AS and smoking. You will support the project in the different stages (telephone screenings, laboratory measurements, data analysis). The thesis project should start around January 2019. If you are interested, please contact M. Sc. Stefanie Kunas (Stefanie.Kunas@hu-berlin.de).

 

 

MA: Near-miss inference in anxiety disorder: An experimental approach

Anxiety disorders constitute the largest group of mental disorders in Europe; however, their first-line treatment (Cognitive behavioral therapy; CBT) only lead to clinically significant change in 50-65% of cases. To enhance CBT treatment and understanding of the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders, we will investigate a potentially crucial cognitive bias: near-miss inferences. Near-miss inferences are beliefs that a feared outcome almost occurred but did not due to chance. This belief might help to create and maintain maladaptive beliefs, in the face of counterevidence. We will investigate near-miss inference within the framework of fear conditioning, as emotional-associative learning represents a key process in anxiety disorders. To do so, we will condition anxiety responses towards a gambling wheel in which there will be an electric shock administered. This allows us to measure the self-reported and physiological responses towards hit, near-miss and complete miss events.

           This thesis provides the opportunity to work within the psychotherapy chair’s experimental “Near-miss-project” and to measure physiological reactions using (i.e. Electrodermal activity (EDA)). We will at first screen and then recruit healthy individuals presenting different manifestations in AS. You will support the project in the different stages (telephone screenings, laboratory measurements, data analysis). The thesis project should start around April 2019, the principal investigator will be Dr. Ulrike Lüken. If you are interested, please contact M. Sc. Matthias Haucke (Matthias.haucke@hu-berlin.de)