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Technology & Psychopathology Lab


Mission: To ignite large-scale reductions in mental illness by harmonizing advances in technology with advances in psychology

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Technology & Psychopathology Lab


Mission: To ignite large-scale reductions in mental illness by harmonizing advances in technology with advances in psychology

Over the past several decades:

Rates of suicide and suicidal behaviors have not declined

Rates of most major mental illnesses have not declined

Technology has become exponentially more powerful and pervasive


Our work aims to provide new insights into psychopathology (especially suicidal behaviors) and to leverage technology to transform these insights into major declines in mental illness

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Meta-Analyses


Meta-Analyses of Risk Factors for Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors (1965-Present)

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Meta-Analyses


Meta-Analyses of Risk Factors for Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors (1965-Present)

it's hard to advance knowledge if you don't know what's known

Our first step is to try to figure out what science currently knows about our phenomena of interest. Meta-analyses are a great way to summarize and understand current knowledge. We have an ongoing project that collects all information on risk factors (i.e., longitudinal predictors) for our primary interest -- self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs). This project has produced many surprising and sobering findings. As we publish papers from this project, we will include detailed information about specific findings (all pictures below represent submitted papers and will become active links once published).

For now, we note three overarching findings from this project:

 

Science's ability to predict SITBs is only slightly better than chance

Science's ability to predict SITBs has not improved across 50 years of research and several hundred papers

Researchers have essentially conducted the same studies over and over again for the last several decades

 

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Experimental Work


Laboratory-Based Work on the Mechanisms that Drive Self-Injurious Behaviors

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Experimental Work


Laboratory-Based Work on the Mechanisms that Drive Self-Injurious Behaviors

Testing new ideas about how self-injurious thoughts and behaviors work

A major takeaway from our meta-analytic work is that science currently knows little about how self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs) work. We've accordingly done away with old assumptions and conducted several projects aimed at testing new ideas about SITBs. This work involves experimental designs and typically includes multiple levels of measurement (explicit, implicit, behavioral, physiological). There is surprisingly little of this kind of work in the SITB field. Yet this work is crucial to advancing knowledge because, compared to correlational (and/or solely self-report) studies, experimental work allows us to more directly evaluate ideas/questions and permits more epistemologically valid conclusions. In short, it is difficult to advance knowledge about something without stringent experimentation.

 

Completed Work

Most of our completed experimental work has been aimed at answering two major questions. First, we reason that people only do things if there's some kind of benefit to doing them. The benefits of SITBs aren't obvious, but still they must carry benefits; so what are these benefits? As described in more detail below (click on the picture), we've found that SITBs can make people feel better via something called "pain offset relief" and via the satisfaction of self-punishment motives. Second, we reason that SITBs are scary, painful, and generally counter to evolutionarily conserved self-preservation instincts. What are the barriers to SITBs and how do some people overcome them? Click on the picture link below to see some of our preliminary answers to this question.

 

Ongoing and Upcoming Experimental Work

In addition to continuing projects aimed at answering the two questions noted above, we're now using experiments to fill in several other important gaps in knowledge about SITBs:

(1) How do suicidal thoughts come about? We know that suicidal thoughts exist (~2% of the population each year), we know that they explode in prevalence in early adolescence, and we know that they are correlated with certain disorders and negative life events -- but we don't know much else. We're interested not only in the more distal factors that might lead to suicidal thoughts (e.g., a romantic breakup), but also in the specific, proximal cognitive, emotional, and social processes that directly produce suicidal thoughts. In other words, with these experiments we're not looking for the predictors of suicide ideation; we're looking for the mechanisms of suicide ideation.

(2) In the moment, what causes someone to initiate suicidal behavior? Differences between people who only think about suicide vs. people who actually engage in suicidal behavior has become a hot topic recently, but most of the work so far has focused on correlates of ideators vs. attempters. This kind of work hints at the processes that give rise to suicidal behavior; we are interested in specifying and directly studying these processes. As with ideation, we're primarily interested in the specific, proximal processes that directly produce suicidal behavior rather than the predictors of suicidal behavior. 

(3) How can we interrupt the processes that produce suicidal thoughts and behaviors? So far, we've identified two such processes (negative association with the self; diminished aversion to self-injury/suicide/death). We have a long way to go to fully understand these processes, but we have identified at least one way to counteract part of these processes: conditioning, specifically evaluative conditioning. Our early work on this, described in the treatment section of this website, uses a broad technique to condition new associations. We are currently testing a range of other techniques that may lead to more powerful and enduring conditioning.

 

Within these projects, we will be adding to our methodological repertoire, which already includes things like pain manipulations, psychophysiological measures, and a range of implicit assessment tools. Most notably, our newer work includes:

(1) Custom virtual reality paradigms. We have an Oculus Rift and an HTC Vive, and specific lab space devoted to their use. We work with programmers to develop tailor-made paradigms to help us experimentally test our major questions of interest. Compared to our traditional experimental capabilities (e.g., imagining a scenario, looking at a picture, answering a question), virtual reality allows us to immerse the participant into a life-like environment with limitless experimental options. 

(2) Machine learning techniques. We take advantage of the machine learning expertise of Dr. Jessica Ribeiro's lab at FSU to apply this approach to help answer our major questions of interest. As Dr. Ribeiro recently pointed out (see here), this approach is far superior to traditional statistical techniques and has already generated major advances in the prediction of SITBs. The TAP Lab uses these techniques to extract, combine, and optimize experimental data in novels ways that deepen our understanding of how SITBs work.

(3) Mobile technologies. Just as our interventions are scaled to mobile technologies (see treatment section of this website), some of our experiments are implemented on a world-wide scale. This includes mobile versions of implicit tasks (e.g., the Implicit Association Test, the Affect Misattribution Procedure), custom surveys, and mobile virtual reality paradigms (e.g., via Google Cardboard).

 

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Mobile Treatment Apps


Our Game-Like Mobile Treatment Apps for Self-Injury, Suicidal Behaviors, and Other Phenomena

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Mobile Treatment Apps


Our Game-Like Mobile Treatment Apps for Self-Injury, Suicidal Behaviors, and Other Phenomena

Novel treatments designed to reach all in need

Two of the biggest reasons that SITBs have not declined over the last several decades are:

(1) There are few effective interventions of SITBs

(2) Existing intervention styles (e.g., in-person therapy) can only reach a small proportion of people in need

Our approach is different. We aim to combine basic psychological science, the newest information about how SITBs work, and the latest technologies to grow completely new forms of treatment. Our ultimate goals are to create treatments that are (a) far more powerful than in-person treatments and (b) freely available to everyone with internet access. As described in greater detail via the image links below, we have taken the initial steps toward these goals. Three randomized control trials have now shown that one of our first mobile treatment apps - therapeutic evaluative conditioning (TEC) - powerfully reduces SITBs. Much of our ongoing work is aimed at improving TEC, expanding TEC to non-SITB issues, and creating totally new mobile treatment apps.

TEC for suicidal and nonsuicidal self-injury is available for FREE for all Apple devices (click here) and Android devices (click here)

Please see this website (click here) for more information on the publicly available app

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People


Who are we?

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People


Who are we?

our team

Our team started at Florida State University in August of 2016. Members include Dr. Joseph C. Franklin (Lab Director), and Irene Huang and Katherine Musacchio  (Graduate Students). In addition, we have many invaluable collaborators and volunteers. Please click on the image links below for more information about lab members and collaborators.