B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Harvard University
Christen DeveneyAssociate Professor of Psychology
Research explores the behavioral and neural markers of psychiatric symptoms in both children and adults.
Trained as a clinical psychologist, my research career has explored the cognitive processes, behaviors, and neural activity patterns associated with psychiatric disorders and symptoms. Understanding these mechanisms may provide important clues about the causes of each illness and potential targets for prevention and intervention efforts. Because some mechanisms are not always identifiable by the individuals themselves, my research relies on an array of behavioral measures (e.g., accuracy and response time on computer tasks) and neurophysiological techniques (e.g., event-related brain potentials [ERP]).
My recent research has focused on irritability because it represents an important mood symptom that is present in numerous psychiatric disorders and is associated with impairment across the lifespan. Because characteristic features of irritability include extreme emotions and impaired emotion regulation, a central focus of my research program is on responses to affective contexts and emotional stimuli. For example, recent studies have explored whether irritability is associated with atypical responses to frustration and perceptions of emotional faces. My work adopts a developmental approach, examining emotional processing at different developmental stages to facilitate the field’s understanding of the developmental trajectory of mood-related emotional processing patterns.
The opportunity to work with a number of talented and motivated undergraduates in my research lab is one of the primary reasons I sought a position at Wellesley and has been a highlight of my time at this institution. Because Wellesley does not have graduate programs, undergraduate students are the central collaborators in my research program. Students gain experience designing, analyzing, and interpreting data from studies using behavioral and neural measures. I have enjoyed introducing students to the complexities of collecting neurophysiology data and the challenges of asking clinically-relevant questions in a scientifically rigorous way. My favorite experiences have been watching students turn their questions about behavior into tractable research questions and discuss their findings in posters/presentations with other scientists. As the beneficiary of excellent mentoring throughout my career, I am committed to involving students as active collaborators in my research program and supporting a new generation of women in science.
In the lab and in my courses (Introduction to Psychology, Biological Psychology, Affective and Clinical Psychobiology, and Psychopharmacology), students gain foundational knowledge about the brain and how measures of neurobiological functioning provide unique insights into typical human behavior and psychiatric illness. Students also develop skills for understanding and evaluating empirical neurobiological research. For the numerous PSYC and NEUR students interested in careers in mental health, experience understanding and using these scientific methods allows them to be effective consumers of, and contributors to, cutting edge research in the field.