The BrAIN lab studies the biological and psychological processes involved in emotion and interpersonal relationships. These include lines of research focused on social bonding and attachment, and the social regulation of emotion.
Much of our work focuses on testing a model (Beckes & Coan, 2015) of attachment learning that predicts that relationship specific attachment styles – the degree to which someone is secure or insecure in a specific relationship – emerge out of schedules of negative reinforcement within that relationship (a distress-relief dynamic). This dynamic unfolds in social support contexts in which one person seeks support from another and the other regulates the support seekers emotions by responding. Other research in this domain focuses on testing the normative biological and psychological processes involved in social affiliation and bonding.
Other work from our lab attempts to test ideas from social baseline theory (Beckes & Coan, 2011; Beckes & Coan, 2013) that posits that social proximity is a baseline condition for the human species and the human brain assumes the presence of other people. When that assumption is violated it should serve as an unconditional threat to the individual, increasing the predicted and actual costs of engaging in action in the environment. Thus, isolation requires more effort on the part of the individual. This is in part because individuals must expend more energy on self-regulation using prefrontal regions of the brain routing needed energy from other systems. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) work supports the idea that social proximity diminishes the neural response to threat and benefits physical health. Our lab continues to explore these findings, particularly to identify and understand the neurobiological mechanisms involved.