Research Initiatives

Why is it that a depressed individual may value nothing at all, while an addict might value drug consumption above all else? What makes someone endlessly—and irrationally—repeat a behavior such as hand-washing? And how might the plasticity of the brain be harnessed to heal brain injuries?

Computational approaches have become an integral part of neuroscience and cognitive science, yet human decision-making processes and mental disorders have yet to be systematically analyzed in computational terms. To characterize mental function and dysfunction, the Computational Psychiatry Unit has launched several large-scale data collection projects.

Through its international functional brain imaging network and the Roanoke Brain Study, for example, the Computational Psychiatry Unit is becoming the hub for interactive functional brain imaging around the world. The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s two MRI scanners in Roanoke connect not only with a third MRI at the Institute’s satellite facility in Blacksburg, but also with MRIs at collaborative sites across the United States and in Europe and Asia. The large-scale and uniquely interactive research that this technology enables are providing new insights into the decision-making operations of the human brain, not just in healthy volunteers, but also in people who have suffered stroke or a traumatic brain injury, or have autism spectrum disorder, dementia, depression, or chronic addiction.

In addition, Computational Psychiatry Unit scientists are collaborating with Warren Bickel, director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, to explore issues related to addiction and recovery. They are also working with Craig Ramey and Sharon Ramey, professors in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, to study issues in child brain development.