Mariann Weierich: Understanding stress and stress-related disorders

Mariann Weierich


Understanding stress and stress-related disorders


Mariann Weierich




Mariann Weierich, Ph.D., is the James K. and Lois Merritt Mikawa Professor of Psychology and a 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 learning one or two of these methods in the context of a lab study. Mariann 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 and Harvard Medical School. Weierich joined the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2019. Between her previous faculty position at the City University of New York and her time at the University of Nevada, Reno, Weierich has trained more than 70 undergraduate and graduate students, of whom 26 were URM and approximately half were first generation college students. So far 23 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 experience with guidance and mentoring.

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 stress hormones measured from a saliva sample predict the degree to which that person’s brain is over-active during a brain scan several days later, which suggests that a simple saliva sample might be useful for treatment planning. The lab currently is planning Fall 2023 studies, and whatever those studies might be, undergraduate trainees can expect to learn to do some of the following:

  1. Theoretical skills: understand the overall purpose and research questions of the Weierich 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 Weierich 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!