Julia Caruana

Supervisors: Prof Kim Felmingham, Dr Nicholas van Dam, Prof David Forbes

"My research aims to explore some of the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning specific symptom presentations in trauma-related mental health conditions. Responses to traumatic events are highly variable. Most people return to pre-trauma baseline functioning within around 3 months after experiencing a traumatic event. However, a significant proportion will go on to develop some form of mental health condition (mostly depression and generalised anxiety, followed by PTSD). But symptom presentations are highly variable even within PTSD. Trauma-exposed individuals may experience hypervigilance to threat, difficulties interpreting uncertain social cues, trouble distinguishing threatening from safe contexts, impaired ability to attenuate their responses to trauma-relevant stimuli, and avoidance of distressing emotions like fear. These factors seem to play a role in the development of significant anger problems, which have a range of complex clinical and psychosocial impacts. We know that social support is the strongest protective factor against PTSD onset, yet that dysregulated anger impairs interpersonal functioning and corrodes the very relationships that are critical for posttraumatic resilience. Furthermore, anger dysregulation is strongly predictive of severe, enduring, and treatment-resistant PTSD. Yet despite the risks associated with anger in trauma-exposed individuals, anger is considerably neglected in the trauma literature and effective trauma-informed anger interventions are lacking.

My research specifically examines anger among trauma-exposed individuals and aims to investigate some of the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning this particular symptom presentation (across, rather than within, diagnostic categories). We are using high temporal resolution event-related potential techniques to explore electrocortical responses to social information at both automatic and later deliberative processing stages. We will also investigate the effect of anger on fear extinction and belief change (both critical for successful exposure therapy), contextual processing, and operant conditioning using Bayesian statistical techniques in a computational psychiatry framework.

Outside of uni I am into gardening, techno and house music from the 90s, sound systems, and related audiophile curiosities with like-minded folk. "