When it comes to studying the brain, Psychology Professor David Gansler fills many roles: educator, researcher, and, at times, detective.

“We’re always looking to increase our understanding of the frontal lobes of the brain and searching for clues on how to treat people who have either neurologic or psychiatric problems,” says Gansler. “Our goal is to improve lives.”

The Brain Image Analysis Laboratory serves three purposes:

  • To investigate the neural basis of cognitive and affective process
  • To provide students with research opportunities integrating neuroimaging and psychological modalities
  • To prepare students for the health care settings of the future

Gansler founded the Brain Image Analysis Laboratory (BIAL), one of several research laboratories in the Suffolk University Psychology Department in 2000 and is focused on using imaging to understand how brain structure relates to behavior.

Psychology Professor and Co-Director Matthew Jerram joined him seven years later, bringing expertise in the use of imaging to examine the relationship of brain function and behavior.

David Gansler, Jessica Pan, and Matthew Jerram Students involved in peer-reviewed publications

To date, BIAL has produced 10 peer-reviewed publications co-authored by faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Jerram and Gansler, in collaboration with graduate students Athene Lee and Alyson Negreira, recently published the results of an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study examining how the brain responds to the emotional sense of being in control or out of control of a situation. The study found that the brain regions responding to feeling in control differ from those responding to feeling out of control.

Jerram and undergraduate student Samantha Bates also presented a meta-analysis of many fMRI studies to identify areas of the brain that had not previously been widely discussed in relation to dissociation and raised several interesting research questions. These studies are part of the lab’s effort to understand how affect is reflected in brain function.

Says Jerram: “There will be many opportunities for students to participate in data analysis in these studies. It will not only provide them with a chance to learn about cutting-edge imaging analysis techniques, but to participate in new advances in the study of brain-behavior relationships.”

Academic fulfillment

“Working on this study was one of the best experiences of my academic life,” says Bates, who received a BS in psychology in 2014 and believes that that working on the study is valuable preparation for her future role as a research assistant. “There was a lot of reading and time involved because you had to study each brain imaging software. However, when you get the results, it’s an amazing feeling to see all your hard work pay off at the end.”

Jerram will engage several students in the lab’s next project, using recently collected data to study how people actively influence their emotional sense of being in control or out of control.

The results of this study will contribute to a better understanding of what might be going on neurologically when people have problems with anxiety (sense of too little control) or anger (sense of too much control).

Inhibition & brain networks

Gansler recently teamed up with graduate student Jessica Pan on a neurobehavioral modeling of inhibition project. They studied various types of inhibition and how they are related to different networks in the brain.

“I feel well supported and nurtured by Dr. Gansler and other faculty members of the doctoral program at Suffolk,” says Pan, who plans to become a pediatric neuropsychologist. “They facilitate my transition from being a research assistant who follows protocols and does what I’m told, to being an investigator who takes charge in asking novel research questions and developing strategies to look for answers.”

Anger study

Gansler’s next project is a study of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) and its effect on induced anger. In essence, tDCS is a neuro-modulation technique that promotes neural plasticity and stabilization of brain function and enhances adaptive responses to the environment.

Says Gansler: “If tDCS shows the potential to reduce anger in healthy volunteers, its potential as a therapeutic tool for pathological anger could be explored.”