Research Activities

Funded research within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is focused on the investigation of the effects of substance abuse, characteristics of abusing populations, and discovery of precursors to drug abuse. In addition, a variety of ongoing research projects are conducted within the Department without external funding. Areas of focus include:

  • trauma in different populations (Oklahoma City bombing survivors, Katrina survivors, life-time trauma),

  • stress and anxiety (in patients with various mental health problems, childhood obesity, and substance use disorders; residents of high-risk neighborhoods; and medical students),

  • coping and resilience in children,

  • the effects of chemotherapy on cognitive functioning in cancer patients, and neuropsychological functioning in neurological disease (dementia, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, cognition of normal aging),  and

  • responses to treatment in patients with substance use disorders.

Faculty also conduct studies of educational programs for medical training and studies assessing factors that influence medical student attitudes towards mental health and substance abuse.

Terrorism and Disaster Center - Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD, Director

Behavioral Sciences Laboratory
(William R. Lovallo, PhD, Director)

The Behavioral Sciences Laboratories (BSL) were established in 1962 at the VA Medical Center with the goal of support interdisciplinary behavioral research and training in a biomedical environment. The BSL is located on the 5th floor of Building 755 in the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park Medical Center and houses several federally supported research projects and provides training opportunities for postdoctoral fellows. Two testing rooms are available for human performance and psychophysiological studies, and a core wet lab supports processing and storage of human blood and saliva samples.

Research at the BSL is concerned with individual differences in stress reactivity in relation to emotion states, and health. The focus is on central nervous system function in relation to behavior and responses of the cardiovascular, and endocrine systems. Physical and psychological stress arises when the well being of the body is threatened by a physically or emotionally distressing event, such as dynamic exercise or work on a challenging psychomotor or cognitive task, such as mental arithmetic. Motivated behavior includes states of activation to achieve a goal or avoid an unpleasant outcome along with positive and negative affective processes, the brain states that accompany them, and the physiological consequences.

Challenges such as these can cause significant cardiovascular and endocrine responses leading to significant changes from the resting state.  This information can be particularly useful for comparing different groups of persons in terms of central nervous system and peripheral physiological integration in relation to health and disease risk.

Primary research concerns risk factors for alcoholism and consequences of early life adverse experience on behavioral and physiological response tendencies.  This project is dedicated to examining behavioral, emotional, and physiological responses in young adults with a family history of alcohol or other substance abuse. The work is based on a theory of substance abuse risk that implicates mild alterations of central nervous system processes that aid in regulation of affect, behavior, and physiology. The project involves an extensive psychiatric evaluation of each volunteer along with a careful documentation of the histories of first-degree relatives. Our study calls for testing the volunteers for their subjective emotional responses to standard laboratory challenges and to document their cardiovascular, endocrine, and subjective responses to these situations. In addition we are studying specific cognitive task challenges and their behavioral effects in persons at high and at low risk.  Two outgrowths of this work involve neuroimaging of our volunteers at the Research Imaging Institute at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. Both PET and fMRI investigations are being conducted in the resting state and in relation to tasks that challenge the subject to perform tasks evoking emotional responses along with cognitive and behavioral tasks probing impulsive tendencies.  The second outgrowth of this work is to compare DNA samples from 320 of our subjects in collaboration with the Section on Human Neurogenetics at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This work will involve comparing our alcoholism risk groups on 770,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms and a series of targeted genes.

Behavioral Sciences Laboratories (BSL)
Presbyterian Health Foundation
Research Park Medical Center
755 Research Parkway, 5th Floor
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
(405) 456-3124