Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of two papers in leading journals for psychiatry and psychology on his work with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The RDoC is a framework to drive translational research to improve psychiatric diagnosis and develop new and better treatments.
In the October issue of World Psychiatry, Sanislow reports on ongoing RDoC work, including the consideration of adding the domain “Motor Systems” to the RDoC. Early this month, Sanislow participated in a workshop at NIMH to review the evidence for research constructs having to do with disruptions of movement related to psychopathology.
In the November issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Sanislow argues for the need to research connections between internal mechanisms and core dimensions of human suffering and dysfunction. In Sanislow’s lab at Wesleyan, students learn methods to study alterations in cognitive and neural processes, and ways to clarify how such alterations relate to clinical symptoms. Sanislow began work on the RDoC when it started in 2009, and he continues to serve as member of the NIMH Internal Working Group for the project.
Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, published findings from his laboratory titled “Ratings for Emotion Film Clips,” in Behavior Research Methods (Volume 47, Issue 3, pages 773-787) in September 2015. Co-authors included former post doc Crystal Gabert-Quillen (now on the faculty at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey); Ellen Bartolini ’11 (currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Widener University); and Benjamin Abravanel ’13 (currently a graduate student in the clinical science program at the University of California—Berkeley).
In mood induction studies Sanislow and his students were piloting in the lab, they noticed that film clips historically used to elicit moods in prior work were not eliciting the intended moods. For instance, a film clip from Bambi had historically been used to elicit sadness, but instead, elicited anger among Wesleyan students.
They turned to students the Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department to suggest film clips of emotional scenes, and then collected normative ratings from Wesleyan students over the course of several semesters.
“From our findings, it became clear that reactions to emotional material could vary in the context of history, culture and gender,” Sanislow said.
For instance, men reacted strongly to positive film clips, whereas women reacted more strongly to negatively film clips.
“We urge researchers to pay attention to potential systematic differences. Our work resulted in a useful set of film clips for others to study emotion,” Sanislow said. “We have already had a number of researchers interested in using the clips in their own research contact us.”
This report examines the relationship of borderline personality disorders (BPD), as defined by the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition), to anxiety disorders using data on the reciprocal effects of improvement or worsening of BPD and anxiety disorders over the course of 10 years.
Sanislow and his colleagues prospectively assessed borderline patients with DSM-IV–defined co-occurring generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, panic disorder without agoraphobia, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) annually between 1997 and 2009. They used proportional hazards regression analyses to assess the effects of monthly improvement or worsening of BPD and anxiety disorders on each other’s remission and relapse the following month.
The study suggests that BPD negatively affects the course of general anxiety disorder, social phobia, and PTSD. In contrast, the anxiety disorders, aside from PTSD, had little effect on BPD course. For general anxiety disorder and social phobia, whose course BPD unidirectionally influences, the researchers suggest prioritizing treatment for BPD, whereas BPD should be treated concurrently with panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or PTSD.
The findings in the paper are from the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), on which Sanislow has been an investigator since it began in 1996.
A chapter titled “Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)” by Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, was published in the Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology in January.
Kevin Quinn of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Isaiah Sypher ’13 co-authored the chapter.
Sypher worked in Sanislow’s lab at Wesleyan and then went on to a research position at the NIMH Intramural Program in Affective Neuroscience. He is currently in the process of applying to clinical science programs in psychology.
Sanislow and Quinn are both charter members of the NIMH Working Group for the RDoC, a project that is developing a new diagnostic approach based on internal mechanisms to guide research on mental disorders.
The Board of Trustees recently conferred tenure to two Wesleyan faculty and promoted five faculty to full professor. Their promotions take effect July 1.
Victoria Pitts-Taylor, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, will receive tenure. Pitts-Taylor will join Wesleyan as a new faculty members and chair of the FGSS program on the same date.
Those promoted to full professor are Martha Gilmore, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Yuri Kordonsky, professor of theater; James Lipton, professor of mathematics and computer sciences; Brian Stewart, professor of physics; and Greg Voth, professor of physics.
Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching are below:
Pitts-Taylor will offer courses in feminist science studies, gender theory, and interdisciplinary body studies.
Chuck Sanislow, Liz Reagan ’13 and Katie da Cruz ’11 and are co-authors of a chapter in this newly-published handbook on personality disorders.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Charles “Chuck” Sanislow, Liz Reagan ’13 and Katie da Cruz ’11 the co-authors of a chapter titled “Avoidant Personality Disorder, Traits, and Type,” published in The Oxford Handbook for Personality Disorders, Oxford University Press, pages 549-565, in 2012. May Gianoli, formerly a postdoc in psychology and now at Yale, also was a co-author. Katie da Cruz is currently working on her Ph.D in school psychology at Michigan State.
Charles Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology; Ellen Bartolini ’11; and Emma Zoloth ’10 are the co-authors of an article on avoidant personality disorder, published in the Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 2nd Edition by the Elsevier imprint Academic Press, pages 257-266, 2012.
According to an abstract of the article, “Avoidant personality disorder (APD) is characterized by severe and chronic social anxiety. Prospective studies demonstrate modest symptomatic stability and chronic functional impairment. Current diagnostic conceptualizations distinguish APD from other distress disorders, such as anxiety and depression, by a long-standing pattern of social avoidance accompanied by fears of criticism and low self-worth so pervasive that it defines who a person is. New proposals to refine the diagnosis include the addition of trait components focusing on negative emotionality, introversion, anhedonia, and compulsive risk aversion to better distinguish APD from other anxiety-related disorders. APD is a useful diagnostic construct that captures an entrenched manifestation of social anxiety driven by feelings of low self-worth and the expectation of rejection.”
Charles Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, and two members of his lab, Katie Marcus ’13 and Liz Reagan ’13 published an article on challenging old assumptions about about the outcome of borderline psychopathology in the February 2012 issue of Current Psychiatry Reports. The paper details current findings from major longitudinal psychiatry studies including the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Study, which Sanislow has been as an investigator on for the past 16 years, and suggests new directions for clinical research. The article is online here.
Also published in February is a work that Sanislow co-authored from the Collaborative Personality Study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study results identified interpersonal styles that place people at risk for depression and chronic functional impairments. Findings have implications for psychotherapy treatments for chronic depression. The article, titled “Interpersonal Pathoplasticity in the Course of Major Depression,” appears in issue 80, pages 78-86. The study is online here.
Charles "Chuck" Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, runs the Cognitive-Affective-Personality-Science (CAPS) lab in Judd Hall.
This issue, we ask “5 Questions” of Charles “Chuck” Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, who is both a clinical psychologist and a psychopathologist and studies a variety of mental illnesses and the approaches used to diagnose and treat these ailments.
Q: You are clinical psychologist but also a psychopathologist. Can you explain that second title for us?
A: Psychopathology is literally “the pathology of the mind.” To study disorders of the mind requires a variety approaches. Biology and brain systems tell us a lot about when things are working right in the brain, and how they go wrong. We also need cognitive theories to help us understand mental processes, such as disruptions in working memory and emotion regulation. Behavioral approaches inform how our experiences and thought processes may be conditioned and shaped by interpersonal processes.
Charles Sanislow and his students, Katie Marcus '13 and Liz Regan '13 inspect EEG data collected from a participant in one of their studies. EEG involves the use of sensitive electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain. The wave form shown here called the "P300" is characteristic of a response inhibition task.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with your research?
A: Much of my work has aimed to improve clinical diagnosis. Most psychological disorders as we now know them are based on symptoms and behaviors that seem to cluster together forming a “syndrome.” The causes and mechanisms of these patterns are not well known. One artifact of the current approach to clinical diagnosis is that patients often meet criteria for several mental disorders at once. What does it really mean to say that a person has two different kinds of depression? Are these differences really qualitative? Are the mechanisms independent? These are the types of questions that we ask in my research in the Cognitive-Affective-Personality-Science (CAPS) lab.
Q: How do you approach these questions in your day-to-day research activities?
A: The majority of the research is focused on mental disorders with disturbances in mood and affect and that are moderated by stress or temperament. For example, we study depression and anxiety, including posttraumatic stress disorder and personality disorders such as borderline. We find a tremendous overlap in the features and mechanisms of these disorders. Comparing combinations of these disorders is one way to begin to clarify core processes that may cut across a range of disorders.
Charles Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, co-authored a study that was published the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in July 2011. The research suggests self-report assessment measures of personality pathology are more stable and orderly than those obtained by clinical diagnostic interviews, and informs Sanislow’s larger research agenda involving approaches to diagnosing mental disorders. Read the study, titled “Comparing the Temporal Stability of Self-Report and Interview Assessed Personality Disorder” online.
Charles Sanislow, assistant professor of psychology, co-authored a study published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study reports on the prospective course of psychopathology and functioning for Borderline Personality Disorder. The work emanates from the Collaborative Personality Study led by a team of researchers of which Sanislow has been a member since the study began in 1996. The study is online here .