Christian Waugh
Associate Professor of Psychology
(336) 758-3631
Greene Hall 445

Resilience and the temporal dynamics of emotion

Research examining individual differences in resilience has typically focused on the identification of people who have experienced stress and trauma, but who afterwards exhibit positive functioning.  Much of the research in the areas of stress and emotion focuses on the intensity of individuals’ responses to stressful/emotional events.  It is important to note, however, that these responses evolve over time.  My research demonstrates that elucidating these temporal dynamics is critical to understanding individual differences in resilience.

  1. Emotional temporal dynamics in the brain. Emotions evolve over time; however, current tools for understanding emotions in the brain have largely ignored these temporal dynamics.  I have been working to model the temporal features of emotion processing using fMRI blood oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) data.  To assess the temporal dynamics of emotional responses, I have used modeling techniques that can separately estimate the height, time-to-peak, and width of BOLD responses to emotional stimuli.  I believe that elucidating these temporal dynamics of emotion in the brain will prove to be integral for understanding emotional processes and individual differences in emotional processing.
    • Tobia, M.J., Hayashi, K*., Ballard, G., Gotlib, I.H., & Waugh, C.E. (in press). Dynamic functional connectivity and individual differences in emotions during social stress. Human Brain Mapping.
    • Waugh, C.E., Shing, E.Z.*, Avery, B.M.*, Jung, Y., Whitlow, C.T., & Maldjian, J.A. (2017). Neural predictors of emotional inertia in daily life. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 12 (9), 1448-1459.
    • Waugh, C.E., Zarolia, P., Mauss, I.B., Luman, D., Ford, B., Davis, T., Ciesielski, B.G., Sams, K.V.*, & McRae, K. (2016). Emotion regulation changes the duration of the BOLD response to emotional stimuli. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(10), 1550-1559.
    • Waugh, C.E., Shing, E.Z.*, & Avery, B.M.* (2015). Temporal dynamics of emotional processing in the brain. Emotion Review, 7(4), 1-7.
  1. Resilience and flexibility. Resilience is not marked by one particular strategy, but rather by the flexible deployment of different strategies to cope with and adapt to stress. I have shown in one study that resilient people are able to quickly and flexibly adapt their emotional responses to positive and negative emotional events. We are currently exploring interventions that could improve emotional flexibility with an eye toward improving resilience.
    • Shing, E.Z.*, Jayawickreme, E., & Waugh, C.E. (2016). Contextual positive coping as a factor contributing to resilience after disasters. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72 (12), 1287-1306.
    • Waugh, C. E., & Koster, E. H. W. (2015). A resilience framework for promoting stable remission from depression. Clinical Psychology Review, 41, 49-60.
    • Waugh, C. E., Muhtadie, L*., Thompson, R.J., Joormann, J., & Gotlib, I.H. (2012). Affective and physiological responses to stress in girls at elevated risk for depression. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 661-675.
    • Waugh, C. E., Thompson, R. J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2011). Flexible emotional responsiveness in trait resilience. Emotion, 11(5), 1059-1067.
Positive emotions in times of stress

In addition to differential temporal responses to emotional events, evidence is accruing that resilience is associated with the propensity to experience positive emotions in times of stress.  In one study, we found that experiencing positive emotions during stress helped buffer people from experiencing depressive symptoms.  My research extends this formulation by examining how and when positive emotions are useful during stress.

  1. Positive distraction. Positive distraction is when people cope with chronic stress by distracting themselves by engaging in positive emotion inducing activities or thoughts. In our lab, we are investigating how people under chronic stress use positive distraction to improve their mental and physical health. We are also investigating the mechanisms underlying positive distraction in experimental studies.
    • Shing, E.Z.*, McLean, T.W., & Waugh, C.E. (under review). Positive distraction can be an adaptive coping strategy for chronic life stressors.
  1. Neural correlates of positive emotions during stress regulation. We are currently investigating the neural networks underlying the effects of positive emotions during stress regulation. We use fMRI and a number of stress tasks including fear conditioning/extinction, evaluative threat, and negative imagery.
    • Waugh, C. E., Lemus, M. G.*, & Gotlib, I. H. (2014). The role of the medial frontal cortex in the maintenance of emotional states. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 2001-2009.
  1. Motivation to experience positive emotions. Without the motivation to experience positive emotions, the adaptiveness of positive emotions is irrelevant.  In recent studies, I have created a novel paradigm for measuring how motivated people are to work for positive emotional experiences.  Specifically, I am interested in separating the “in-the-moment” enjoyment of positive experiences from the motivation to obtain those experiences, and how these components may differ based on individual differences in resilience and depression.
    1. Monfort, S.S.*, Stroup, H.E.*, & Waugh, C.E. (2015). The impact of anticipating positive events on responses to stress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 11-22.
  • Emotion / Psycophysiology – course description
  • Research Methods and Statistics
  • Stress & Coping