Mariann Weierich: Mechanisms of trauma-related phenomena

Mariann Weierich

Title

Mechanisms of trauma-related phenomena

Mentor

Mariann Weierich

Department

Psychology

Biosketch

Mariann Weierich, Ph.D. is the James K. and Lois Merritt Mikawa Associate Professor of Psychology and associate professor of integrative neuroscience at the University of Nevada, Reno. She teaches undergraduate Abnormal Psychology, in addition to teaching graduate courses. Weierich's research focuses on some of the neurobiological and behavioral mechanisms that underlie normative stress (the stress we all experience sometimes) and stress-related disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder. Her lab takes a clinical/cognitive neuroscience approach that integrates neuroimaging, neuroendocrine assay, behavioral tasks, and clinical interviews. Undergraduate trainees in the lab generally focus on starting to learn one or two of these methods in the context of a lab study.

Weierich earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Yale University, where she also trained in vision science, and she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in affective neuroscience at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging/Harvard Medical School, she joined the faculty of the City University of New York (CUNY). Weierich joined the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2019. At CUNY she trained more than 55 undergraduate and graduate students, of whom 22 were URM and about half were first generation college students. 19 of her undergraduate trainees have entered doctoral programs in clinical psychology, cognitive science, or neuroscience. Although most of her undergraduate trainees have been juniors on entry into the lab, motivated freshmen and sophomores also will gain valuable supervised and mentored experience.

Project overview

More than 70% of people experience a traumatic event at some point in their lifetime. Most people recover without lasting effects, but some people experience persistent stress reactions that reflect an over-activation of the brain and nervous system that in turn can cause challenges for daily functioning. In this lab we are interested in understanding such over-activation, and we use a variety of methods to try to identify how the over-activation occurs. For example, recently we showed that sympathetic nervous system reactivity (measured via salivary stress hormones) predict the degree to which that person's brain is over-active during a brain scan (measured via fMRI) several days later, which suggests that a simple saliva sample might be useful for treatment planning. Due to current public health protocols, we cannot predict the exact studies that we will conduct in Spring 2021, however undergraduate trainees can expect to learn to do some of the following.

  1. Theoretical Skills: understand the overall purpose and research questions of the lab, learn to read and critique scientific papers.
  2. Mechanical Skills: learn the mechanics of data entry, data checking, running human subjects through basic behavioral tasks, basics of experimental software, and annotating a bibliography.
  3. Analytic Skills: understand the variables in the current studies, generate descriptive statistics, and conduct basic statistical tests.
  4. Presentation Skills: concisely explain the purpose of and projects in the lab, and present or co-present a poster or talk for an undergraduate research day.

It would be unusual in the course of a single semester for a trainee to thoroughly learn any of the advanced methods, however there might be opportunities to observe data collection and analysis of data from methods including: behavioral tasks, clinical interviews, saliva collection and assay, neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activation, diffusion weighted imaging of white matter tracts).

We do not expect new trainees to have any of these skills on entry into the lab, so we will train undergraduates in every step along the way!