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Who We Are

The Hunter College Stress, Anxiety & Resilience Research (STARR) Center brings together leading researchers in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology to examine the underlying causes and impact of stress- and anxiety-related disorders in today’s society and how their effects might be most effectively mitigated. We explore topics ranging from disentangling the biological mechanisms of stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression, to the development of novel intervention approaches, to the promotion of resilience in the face of adversity. We sponsor undergraduate and graduate training grants and educational initiatives, community outreach and advocacy efforts, and research dissemination through public conferences and colloquia

The Challenge

Stress and anxiety are pervasive in today’s society, leading to a variety of mental and physical health problems across the lifespan. Stress-related health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression and other physical health problems, are estimated to affect over 40 million people every year in the United States alone, with the economic burden (in terms of health care costs, lost wages, etc.) estimated to be over $45 billion and climbing. Critically, due to gaps in our understanding of the causes and treatment of these stress-related health issues and due to the high cost and low accessibility of evidence-based interventions, many millions continue to suffer from the negative impact of stress on mental and physical health. Positive health promotion and prevention efforts are also of limited efficacy, as we are only beginning to understand ways to build resilience and prevent the development of these disorders. This disparity between need and services is particularly evidenced in under-served, low-income communities and represents among the most critical mental health crises facing us today. Addressing this gap is a core component of the STARR Center's mission.

Mission

The Hunter College STARR Center is dedicated to fostering transformative scientific inquiry on the causes, consequences, and remediation of stress- and anxiety-related disorders and to better understand how to promote human resilience. We accomplish this through cross-disciplinary research and educational collaboration between faculty and their students within the Department of Psychology and across multiple departments and programs at Hunter (Biology, Public Health, Social Work).

Research Themes

Neurobiology of Stress, Anxiety, and Resilience
Dr. Allyson Friedman’s research explores how social factors alter neural circuit’s responses to chronic and acute stress, and influence susceptibility or resilience to neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression. Dr. Ekaterina Likhtik studies circuit-level mechanisms of learning, such as cortical-subcortical communication and the dialogue between excitatory and inhibitory neurons in different internal states, with a focus on interactions between the amygdala, an important center for processing fear and safety information, with structures such as the basal forebrain and the prefrontal cortex. These models have clinical relevance for behavior seen in human anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Dr. Glenn Schafe studies the neurobiological substrates of emotional learning and memory, with particular emphasis on Pavlovian fear conditioning, a paradigm with powerful implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying the development of psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Nesha Burghardt’s examines the neural circuits that underlie the cognitive impairments and emotional symptoms associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Dr. Peter Serrano studies how various signaling pathways are affected by stress, fear, developmental insults, pharmacological challenges, neural stimulation and cognition. Dr. Thomas Preuss’s research aims to uncover how social stress influences sensorimotor integration in the CNS. For that he studies the sensorimotor gating phenomenon pre-pulse inhibition (PPI), which regulates sensory flow during early stages of information processing. Deficits in PPI are implicated in several information processing disorders, including schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorder.

Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Processes
Michael Hoyt studies coping processes and other psychological factors associated with mental health, neuroendocrine and immune function, and adjustment to cancer and cancer treatment, with a focus on men and male-specific cancers. Dr. Regina Miranda’s work focuses on understanding social and cognitive risk for suicide in adolescence and emerging adulthood. Dr. Tracey Revenson examines when, how, for whom, and under what conditions coping and social support influence chronic stress, particularly in the context of major physical illness. Dr. Mariann Weierich’s research focuses on how the brain and the visual system process affective information, and how these processes contribute to the onset and maintenance of stress states and stress-related psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress.

Clinical Mechanisms and Interventions
Dr. Tracy Dennis examines neurocognitive mechanisms underlying affective psychopathology, anxious stress reactivity, and its remediation, with a particular interest in translating these findings into digital mental health interventions. Dr. Doug Mennin’s research program focuses on understanding and treating anxiety and mood disorders utilizing an affect science perspective. Recent research examines demonstrating physiological and neurobiological changes related to emotion processing and regulation, which mediate the clinical success of targeted interventions.