Current Projects

This page isn’t meant to be exhaustive of everything we have going on in the C.R.E.A.M. Lab, but can give you an idea of the type of stuff we’re currently/recently working on. For prospective graduate students, these are the core projects I’m currently excited about topic-wise! Also for prospective students, make sure to check out

Between versus Within-Subject Models of the Protective Effect of Substance-Free Reward on Alcohol, Nicotine, and Marijuana Use and Problems

This is a recent grant I completed from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R36 DA050049). You can find more info about the grant here. The general idea behind the grant was that we know substance-free reward (i.e., naturally pleasurable, non-drug stimuli and activities, such as social interaction and dating, exercise and sports recreation, or hobbies) is protective against substance misuse in the aggregate, but we don’t know how it operates at the within-subject level. So through a few different methods, the purpose of this grant is to clarify between- versus within-subject structures of substance-free reward and their relation to substance misuse.

The basic design was for folks who regularly use alcohol, cannabis, or tobacco to come into the lab, fill out a bunch of baseline questionnaires, and do a full EEG session where we measure brain reactivity to all sorts of different stimuli, mostly centered on substance-free rewards and drug-related images. Then, they go through a 21-day EMA protocol where they report on their engagement in substance-free activities, substance use and problems, and a bunch of other things like stress, sleep, and symptom expressions of psychopathology more broadly (i.e., a daily HiTOP measure). One of the core hypotheses is that for folks who don’t have the neural architecture to process natural rewards as much as other folks will show weaker coupling between engagement in substance-free activities (that would normally be protective against risky substance use) and substance use and problems. We’ve now wrapped up data collection and I’m looking forward to analyzing all these data!

Project Insight

This is a project aimed at understanding variation in substance use and problems (focused primarily on alcohol and cannabis use) within the broader context of general psychopathology experienced in daily life. A core goal of this project is going to be focused on the length of the EMA period (2-3 months) - we want to be able to capture fairly rare phenomena that do not typically occur within a shorter (e.g., a couple of weeks) EMA protocol. We are going to be experimenting with all sorts of methods to try and keep engagement high throughout such a long period with a fairly intensive protocol, so stay tuned for how that works out. If we come up with useful methods, we’ll certainly be focused on making tutorial papers based on those successes (or failures).

Another feature of this project will reflect a focus on Black individuals' mental health. A subset of individuals enrolled in Project Insight will be recruited from the Bay Area, and we will administer some extra questionnaires and EMA items to them in addition to the core battery described above. These will track the effects of systemic and individually-experienced racism and socioeconomic factors that may affect their experience of psychopathology in daily life. And then at the end of the protocol, my collaborators and I will be giving a community presentation on these data at a “science night” in town in partnership with local organizations promoting Black mental health to share the results with the community that volunteered to participate in our work. This represents a renewed focus of the C.R.E.A.M. Lab in doing community-engaged work, particularly focused on racially minoritized populations.

Black EEG

Unfortunately, EEG technology was made without Black folks in mind, and tends to underperform on hair styles typically coded as “black” (e.g., protective hairstyles, afros, etc.), and associated hair textures (e.g., coarse and curly hair). As a result, there has been rampant exclusion of Black participants in EEG research historically, and it does not seem to be improving over time. As such, we are currently working on ways in which we might improve EEG research for Black individuals, and collect higher-quality data on brain activity using several creative approaches, ranging from cosmetology to engineering. While not directly in line with the substantive topic areas we focus on in the lab, we use EEG technology frequently, and feel a responsibility to improve its inclusivity for all of our research participants.