|Previous portrait||Dr. Bethany Teachman
College & Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
If we want to understand why an intelligent, normally rational person with a spider phobia has refused to go down to their basement for ten years, why a person with social phobia sees only the one scowling face in a room full of smiles, why a person with panic disorder is convinced that the 200th panic attack is the one that will bring on a heart attack, we need to consider the role of automatic processing of emotional information in these disorders. Each of these seemingly irrational decisions, beliefs, and behaviors is likely fueled by some aspect of automatic cognitive processing, whereby anxious individuals interpret their environment in such a way that these maladaptive reactions make sense to them in the moment. Our research investigates how these processes contribute to the onset and persistence of anxiety and related problems and whether it is important to change these processes in order to ameliorate emotional health.
Our work has become much more inter-disciplinary over the years. For instance, we now collaborate with colleagues in engineering, computer science, and sociology, among other disciplines, because the complex problems we are trying to address require the integration of expertise from lots of different disciplines. This also means we are constantly being challenged to learn new methods and ways of thinking.
We are especially interested in how we can disseminate psychological science, and think about bringing assessments and interventions to people directly so that they can get help wherever they are instead of needing to come into the lab. This has led to work using smartphones to monitor thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in people’s natural environments, along with the development of two public web sites. In particular, we currently direct Project Implicit Mental Health (www.implicitmentalhealth.com), a web site that allows visitors to complete tasks assessing automatic (i.e., hard to consciously control) associations tied to mental health, and MindTrails (https://mindtrails.virginia.edu/), a web site that provides online “cognitive bias modification” training to encourage healthier thinking patterns to reduce anxiety and related problems. Both sites are free, and simultaneously provide us an exciting way to share our work with a large audience and collect data that we couldn’t get in the lab (e.g., well over 400,000 tasks have been completed at Project Implicit Mental Health).
This photo is from a public health fair Dr. Teachman presented at during the summer of 2016 on Capitol Hill. Dr. Teachman is explaining to a U.S. Congressman how she teaches people to overcome a fear of spiders using the principles of exposure therapy, a very effective therapy to treat phobias and other anxiety disorders.
IMPLICIT MENTAL HEALTH
Dr. Teachman also works on Project Implicit Mental Health, which is part of the Implicit Association Test research project. The PIMH assesses your unconscious reactions when you think about anxiety, depression, alcohol, eating disorders or persons with mental illness. Click here to learn more and discover your hidden thoughts about a range of mental health topics.
Our lab investigates cognitive processes that contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. We are especially interested in how thoughts that occur outside of our control or conscious awareness contribute to fear and anxiety. Visit the Teachman Lab.
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