The Body as a Powerful Internal Context

Social psychology has long championed the idea that situations are powerful and that contexts guide our attitudes, experiences, and behaviors. I am fundamentally interested in how the body's ongoing states and sensations (or allostasis) can serve as powerful "internal situations" or heuristic cues that shape emotions, impact social perceptions, and inform our everyday decisions and behaviors. This includes not just what the body and brain are doing to maintain allostasis and respond to perceived challenges, but also the degree to which we can access or pay attention to that bodily information (i.e., interoception) and what we believe and know about our bodies.

As such, my research program broadly investigates the links between allostasis (e.g., gut-brain axis, inflammation, interoception, stress) and social affective processes across the lifespan. I'm particularly fascinated by how the brain and body work together to generate and represent subjective arousal or bodily sensations like your heart racing or feeling hungry. In turn, how do these central and peripheral bodily signals inform and help contribute to our emotions, social cognitions, and real-world behaviors? To get at how the brain and mind represent the body, some of my work examines interoceptive ability (the ability to accurately disambiguate bodily sensations) and what people know and believe about their bodies (sometimes called interoceptive sensibility and interoceptive knowledge). Because bodies change with age and because we must develop these bodily representations in the context of caregivers, culture, and different life experiences, I also investigate the developmental dimensions of the above processes--such as how children's interoceptive knowledge might scaffold their emotions or how older adults' aging peripheral nervous systems and declining interoception might predict differences in older adults' interoceptive knowledge and how the aging brain represents emotions. 

Ultimately, I work at the intersection of psychological science, psychophysiology and psychoneuroimmunology, developmental science, and social affective neuroscience. See also Areas of Research and Theoretical Inspirations