A Continued Bright Future for Department Research: Recently Funded K Awards for Early-Career Pitt Psychiatry Investigators 

This fall, early-career investigators in our Department have initiated several innovative National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded K-series career development research projects. We are proud to count these young scientists among the newest members of our faculty and anticipate that their research on psychiatric and substance use disorders will contribute much to the bright future of research in our field.

Below, meet the investigators and learn more about their work.

The Neurocognitive Underpinnings of Dispositional Negativity

Timothy Allen, PhD, focuses on the developmental and neurocognitive underpinnings of dispositional negativity, the tendency to experience frequent and intense negative affect. He has demonstrated that early maternal depression can disrupt the normal developmental trajectory of dispositional negativity during childhood, possibly leading to the onset of internalizing and externalizing forms of psychopathology. Dr. Allen has additionally linked dispositional negativity to important clinical outcomes in borderline personality disorder. He currently leads a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded K01 award investigating whether individual differences in anxious distress and irritable distress—both subcomponents of dispositional negativity—are differentially associated with Pavlovian biases toward passive and active defensive behaviors, respectively.

Depression-Specific Implications of Childhood Adversity for Treatment Response in Young People

Rachel Vaughn-Coaxum, PhD, is a clinical psychologist studying how childhood adversity can influence depression treatment response. Her prior research has shown that for some adolescents, childhood adversity can be associated with the employment of ineffective stress-management strategies. Additionally, in her clinical work, Dr. Vaughn-Coaxum has observed that for many young depressed patients who experience prolonged adversity, disruption of their daily lives can cause them to be less likely than other patients to remember or practice skills learned in prior sessions. As PI of an NIMH K23 award, Dr. Vaughn-Coaxum is exploring how childhood adversity may increase risk for treatment non-response—and aims to identify the biobehavioral domains of deficits that underlie this risk—with the long-term goal of enhancing the effectiveness of interventions for depression among young people who have experienced adversity.

Using Genetic and Environmental Information to Identify Young People at Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder
Frances Wang, PhD, has a background in adolescent substance use, developmental psychopathology, temperament, and mental health comorbidity. Her research focuses on the role of genetic and environmental factors in the development of substance use disorders in adolescents. Dr. Wang’s training as a clinical psychologist has provided her with insights into genetic and temperamental pathways to alcohol use disorders, as well as genetically distinct traits that may be associated with the etiology of alcohol use disorder. As PI of a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism-funded K01 award, Dr. Wang aims to integrate high-dimensional genetic data into developmental models of alcohol use disorder to examine patterns by which adolescent risk factors for problematic alcohol use are inherited in families.