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Research Projects


We aim to understand how alterations in negative affect (state/trait), attention/cognitive control, and their interaction, help explain some of the key mechanisms that confer risk for anxiety disorders and depression. Some of the main research themes in our lab are described below

1. Understanding the Joint Impact of Emotional Traits and States on Cognition

Neuroticism or negative temperament (trait) is the propensity to experience and express more frequent, intense, or persistent negative emotions. Although it is among the most well-established risk factors for internalizing disorders, the pathways by which negative temperament confers risk remain unclear. Prior work has focused on alterations in emotional processing or hyper-vigilance (attentional biases to threat) as potential mechanisms. Much less empirical attention has been devoted to the contributions of executive function and cognitive control—the basic building blocks of intelligence and complex everyday cognition—to emotional disorders. A variety of cognitive disruptions, including lapses in concentration, decision-making, and the allocation of cognitive resources, are clinically significant features of anxiety disorders and depression, and these disruptions are closely related to deficits in cognitive control. Attention Control Theory and other models hypothesize that individuals with higher levels of negative temperament are particularly likely to experience deficits in cognitive control during periods of stress. Thus, my work has focused on the interaction and interplay of temperament (trait), negative affect (state), and cognitive control as a potential mechanism involved in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders and depression.


Representative Publications

Hur, J., Miller, G.A., McDavitt, J.B., Spielberg, J. M., Crocker, L.D., Infantolino, Z.P., Towers,D.N., Warren, S.L., & Heller, W. (2015). Interactive effects of trait and state affect on top-down control of attention. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(8), 1128-1136.  PDF

Hur, J., Iordan, A.D., Berenbaum, H, & Dolcos F. (2016). Emotion-attention interactions in fear conditioning: Moderation by executive load, neuroticism, and awareness. Biological Psychology, 121, 213-220.  PDF

Hur, J., Iordan, A. D., Dolcos, F., & Berenbaum, H. (2017). Emotional influences on perception and working memory. Cognition and Emotion, 31(6), 1294-1302.  PDF

2. Examining the Neural Mechanisms Involved in Human Anxiety

Affective symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression are characterized by pervasive and prolonged negative affect, including depressed mood and anxiety. Anxiety, in particular, is a sustained state of heightened apprehension, arousal, and vigilance elicited by dangers that are diffuse, remote, or uncertain. Yet the vast majority of human imaging studies have relied on emotional faces, aversive images, or Pavlovian threat cues—none of which is especially suitable for understanding sustained states elicited by uncertain threat. Using a novel threat countdown task that is designed to consistently elicit robust anticipatory anxiety using multiple threat reinforcers (aversive shocks, images, and sounds), we recently found that, although anticipation of uncertain and certain threat recruited a similar set of brain regions, anticipation of uncertain threat more strongly engages cortical regions implicated in cognitive control (e.g., mid-cingulate cortex, anterior insula, DLPFC), whereas anticipation of certain threat more strongly engages subcortical regions implicated in threat responses (e.g., amygdala, BST). These observations motivate the hypothesis that, to the degree that cognitive control regions are engaged during threat anticipation, they may not be as available to support on-going cognitive performance or emotion regulation, particularly when threat is uncertain. This line of work provides clinically relevant insights into the neural mechanisms involved in human anxiety and sets the stage for the development of more effective interventions for pathological anxiety.


Representative Publications

Hur, J., Smith, J.F., DeYoung, K.A., Anderson, S.A., Kim, H.C., Tillman, R.M., Kuhn, M., Fox, A.S., & Shackman, A.J. (2020). Anxiety and the neurobiology of uncertain threat anticipation. Journal of Neuroscience. 40, 7949-7964.  PDF

​​Hur, J., Stockbridge, M. D., Fox, A. S., & Shackman, A. J. (2019). Dispositional negativity, cognition, and anxiety disorders: An integrative translational neuroscience framework. Progress in Brain Research, 247, 375-436.  PDF

Hur, J., Tillman, R. M., Fox, A. S., & Shackman, A. J. (2019). The value of clinical and translational neuroscience approaches to psychiatric illness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 42, e11.  PDF

3. Clarifying the Factors Governing Negative Affect in the Real World

Negative affect is a fundamental dimension of human emotion. When extreme, it contributes to a variety of adverse outcomes—from physical and mental illness to divorce and premature death. Mechanistic work in animals and neuroimaging research in humans and monkeys has begun to reveal the broad contours of the neural circuits governing negative affect, but the relevance of these discoveries to everyday distress remains incompletely understood. Here we used a combination of approaches—including neuroimaging assays of threat anticipation and emotional face perception and >10,000 momentary assessments of emotional experience—to demonstrate that individuals showing greater activation in a cingulo-opercular circuit during an anxiety-eliciting laboratory paradigm experience lower levels of stressor-dependent distress in their daily lives (n=202-208). Extended amygdala activation was not significantly related to momentary negative affect. These observations provide a framework for understanding the neurobiology of negative affect in the laboratory and in the real world.

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Representative Publications

Hur, J., Kuhn, M., Grogans, S.E., Anderson, A.S., Islam, S., Kim, H.C., Tillman, R.M., Fox, A.S., Smith, J.F., DeYoung, K.A., Shackman, A.J. (2022). Anxiety-related fronto-cortical activity is associated with dampened stressor reactivity in the real world. Psychological Science. PDF

Hur, J., DeYoung, K.A., Anderson, A.A., Islam, S., Barstead, M.G., & Shackman, A.J. (2000). Social context and the real-world consequences of social anxiety. Psychological Medicine, 1-12.  PDF

4. Discovering the Attentional Mechanisms Involved in Worry and Rumination

Worry and rumination are well-established vulnerability factors for, and key features of, the internalizing disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Yet the nature of these maladaptive repetitive cognitive styles and the mechanisms by which they confer risk have only recently come into focus. One important factor that has hindered work in this area has been a lack of clarity about the relationship between worry and rumination, with some theorists emphasizing differences and others focusing on commonalities. Using structural equation modeling and a confirmatory factor analysis, we demonstrated that structural relations between worry and rumination are best represented by a bi-factor model (Hur et al. J Exp Psychopathol 2017). This means that variation in worry and rumination can be decomposed into shared (i.e., repetitive negative thinking) and unique features (i.e., the focus, content, and temporal nature of those thoughts). Although this work provides a new, empirically grounded framework for reconciling on-going conceptual debates, it does not address the pathways linking worry and rumination to the development and maintenance of emotional disorders. Cognitive models posit that emotional disorders are caused and maintained by biases in the processing of emotion-congruent information, and it is possible that trait-like differences in worry and rumination are associated with alterations in attentional processes. We tested this hypothesis implementing a modified dot-probe task incorporating different types of content (physical threat, loss/failure) as stimuli (Hur et al., Cognitive Ther Res 2019). Results revealed that worry and rumination can be distinguished by the focus and direction of attentional biases. That is, worry is associated with avoidance of threat cues, whereas rumination is associated with an exaggerated allocation of attention to loss and failure cues. This is the first empirical evidence of differential attentional processes in worry and rumination, providing new insights into the underlying mechanisms. These findings set the stage for developing more precise and useful cognitive models of pathological repetitive thinking and guiding the development of better prevention/treatment approaches.


Representative Publications

Hur, J., Heller, W., Kern, J.L., & Berenbaum, H. (2017). A bi-factor approach to modeling the structure of worry and rumination. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 8(3), 252-264.  PDF

Hur, J., Gaul, K., & Berenbaum, H. (2019). Different patterns of attention bias in worry and rumination. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 43(4), 713-725.  PDF

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