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Neuroscience PhD at Wake Forest University at Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University Graduate School » Neuroscience PhD at Wake Forest University

Christian Waugh

Christian Waugh
Christian graduated from the College of William and Mary with a B.S. in Psychology and then completed his Ph.D. in Social Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Christian’s research on the pscyhophysiology of emotions and personality and the neural underpinnings of socio-emotional processes has been published in numerous journals including, Neuroimage, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Biological Psychology. While completing his Ph.D. in 2006, Christian received both the Brickman Award for Outstanding pre-doctoral research in Social Psychology and the Pat Gurin Lecture Award.


Resilience and the Temporal Dynamics of Emotion Research examining individual differences in resilience has typically focused on the identification of people who have experienced stress and trauma, but who afterwards exhibit positive functioning. Much of the research in the areas of stress and emotion focuses on the intensity of individuals’ responses to stressful/emotional events. It is important to note, however, that these responses evolve over time. My research demonstrates that elucidating these temporal dynamics is critical to understanding individual differences in resilience. 1. Anticipation and Recovery. Two important temporal components of an emotional response to a stressor are the anticipation of, and the recovery from, that stressor. Although considerable research has examined each of these temporal components separately, no studies have systematically assessed these components together, i.e., examining recovery from anticipation. My work examines how anticipatory processes influence recovery even when the anticipated event never occurs. I am also interested in how individual differences in resilience may modulate the influence of anticipation on recovery.  2. Emotional temporal dynamics in the brain. Emotions evolve over time; however, current tools for understanding emotions in the brain have largely ignored these temporal dynamics. I have been working to model the temporal features of emotion processing using fMRI blood oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) data. For long emotional epochs, I have helped to develop (by providing the empirical data) a model-free technique that identifies ‘change points’ in the data – times at which the activation state significantly changes from a previous state –  that are useful for mapping individual differences in the onset, duration, and offset of emotional experiences. To assess the temporal dynamics of shorter emotional responses, I have used modeling techniques that can separately estimate the height, time-to-peak, and width of BOLD responses to emotional stimuli. I believe that elucidating these temporal dynamics of emotion in the brain has will prove to be integral for understanding emotional processes and individual differences in emotional processing.   Resilience and Positive Emotions in Times of Stress In addition to differential temporal responses to emotional events, evidence is accruing that resilience is associated with the propensity to experience positive emotions in times of stress. In one study, we found that experiencing positive emotions during stress helped buffer people from experiencing depressive symptoms. My research extends this formulation by examining positive emotions during stress in those at elevated risk for psychopathology, the association between positive emotions and social functioning, and possible genetic factors in this ability to maintain positive emotions during stress. 1. Positive emotions and risk for psychopathology. Children of depressed parents are much more likely to develop depression and other forms of psychopathology than are children of never-disordered parents. In two studies, I examined whether experiencing positive emotions in times of stress buffers these children at elevated risk for depression from maladaptive physiological responses to stress. The data show that maintaining positive emotions during stress is particularly important for people at high risk for developing psychopathology. I am currently collecting longitudinal data from these girls to determine whether this ‘resilience within risk’ positive emotional profile protects these girls from developing psychopathology. I’m also interested in how experiencing positive emotions in the midst of negative experiences might buffer negative outcomes for resilient people. 2. Positive emotions and social functioning. Besides adaptive physiological responses, maintaining positive emotions during stress leads to other beneficial outcomes. One such outcome that I have been examining is social functioning. For example, in one study I found that incoming college freshmen who experienced more frequent positive emotions during the stressful transition to college reported greater closeness with their roommate. In another study, I examined the influence of positive emotions on social functioning in development. In a study with adolescent girls, I found that maintaining positive emotions during a social stressor was positively correlated with perceived social acceptance. 3. Motivation to experience positive emotions. Without the motivation to experience positive emotions, the adaptiveness of positive emotions is irrelevant. In recent studies, I have created a novel paradigm for measuring how motivated people are to work for positive emotional experiences. Specifically, I am interested in separating the ‘in-the-moment’ enjoyment of positive experiences from the motivation to obtain those experiences, and how these components may differ based on individual differences in resilience and depression.


Waugh, C. E., Panage, S., Mendes, W., & Gotlib, I. H. (2010). Cardiovascular and affective recovery from anticipatory threat. Biological Psychology, 84, 169-175. Waugh, C. E., Hamilton, J. P., & Gotlib, I. H. (2010). The neural temporal dynamics of the intensity of emotional experience. Neuroimage, 49, 1699-1707. Wager, T. D., Waugh, C.E., Lindquist, M., Fredrickson, B.L., Taylor, S. F., & Noll, D. C. (2009). Brain mediators of cardiovascular responses to social threat, Part I: Reciprocal dorsal and ventral sub-regions of the medial prefrontal cortex and heart-rate reactivity. Neuroimage, 47, 821-835. Waugh, C. E., Dearing, K. F., Joormann, J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2009). Association between the Catechol-o-methyltransferase val158met polymorphism and self-perceived social acceptance in adolescent girls. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 19(4), 395-401. Waugh, C. E., Taylor, S. F., & Fredrickson, B. L., (2008). Adapting to life’s slings and arrows: Individual differences in resilience when recovering from an anticipated threat. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1031-1046. Waugh, C. E., Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2008). Psychophysiology of stress and resilience. In: Lukey, B. & Tepe, V. (Eds.), Biobehavioral Resilience to Stress (pp. 117-138). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press Waugh, C. E., Wager, T. D., Fredrickson, B. L., Noll, D. N., & Taylor, S. F. (2008). The neural correlates of trait resilience when anticipating and recovering from threat.  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3, 322-332. Waugh, C.E. & Gotlib, I.H. (2008). Motivation for reward as a function of required effort: Dissociating the 'liking' from the 'wanting' system in humans. Motivation and Emotion, 32, 323-330. Lindquist, M. A., Waugh, C., & Wager, T. D. (2007). Modeling state-related fMRI activity using change-point theory. Neuroimage, 35, 1125-1141. Waugh, C. E., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Nice to know you: Positive emotions, self-other overlap, and complex understanding in the formation of a new relationship. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 93-106. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M, Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. (2003). What Good Are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions following the Terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365-376. Waugh, C. E., Thompson, R., & Gotlib, I. H. (under review). Flexible affective and physiological responding in trait resilience. Under review. Waugh, C. E., Mutadie, L., Thompson, R., Joormann, J., & Gotlib, I.H. (under review). Affective and physiological responses to stress in girls at elevated risk for depression. Under review. Sherdell, L., Waugh, C. E., & Gotlib, I. H. (in prep). Anticipatory pleasure predicts motivation for reward in Major Depression.