Sohee Park, Ph.D.
Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology; Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Medicine, Health & Society
Overview of Interests
Dr. Park’s main research interests lie in elucidating neural bases of anomalous cognitive, affective and social behavior in people with schizophrenia and individuals at risk for psychosis. She utilizes behavioral, neuroimaging, psychophysiological and pharmacological methods to understand normal and abnormal experiences that characterize psychosis. She has studied abnormalities in working memory, attention, affect and social cognition in schizophrenia and related conditions for more than two decades. This line of work has contributed significantly towards elucidating neurocognitive basis for social impairments in schizophrenia. For example, she has shown that working memory is needed for mental simulation of actions of others, which lie at the heart of social cognitive processes, and that simulation ability is impaired in schizophrenia. Thus, the ability to manipulate, maintain and use mental representations to guide behavior may be compromised in schizophrenia. This suggests a possible route for remediation. Simulation exercises via virtual reality (VR) are low-stress, and enjoyable means to improve targeted behavior. The notion that it is possible to change brain function by non-invasive behavioral exercises is gaining momentum. Park’s lab has worked on a neuroplasticity-based cognitive training study of survivors of brain cancer in collaboration with the Compas Lab, and found that frontal cortical dysfunctions can be normalized with a computerized brain-training program. Two decades of research on the key components of social cognitive deficits in schizophrenia and more recent work on computerized brain training programs motivate new projects that focus on intervention. Current projects include an intervention study that capitalizes on the recent advances in emotion-sensing VR technology to train social skills in schizophrenia patients and determine if VR training leads to better social attention which in turn may lead to better social outcome using, multiple measures. This approach exemplifies interdisciplinary research that is focused on developing effective and high-compliance intervention method for social cognitive deficits.