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April 28, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Allan Gets NIH Grant for Study Biology of Emotional Distress Disorders

Nicholas Allan, portrait

Dr. Nicholas Allan

Dr. Nicholas Allan, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ohio University, received an Academic Research Enhancement Award from the National Institutes of Health.

The R15 grant program supports meritorious research, exposes undergraduate and graduate students to hands-on research in eligible environments, and strengthens the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support.

Allan’s research will use a quantitative approach to examine biological processes in relation to emotional distress disorders known as anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty.

His team will attempt to unite two different research frameworks being used to study mental disorders—one focusing on psychological constructs including fear and anxiety, the other using information ranging from genetics to self-reporting.

They will focus on constructs (such as fear and anxiety) that operate as risk factors across multiple emotional distress disorders and that could integrate these two research frameworks.

“Emotional distress disorders are both common (lifetime prevalence rates ranging from 18-32 percent) and costly (global economic cost of $1.15 trillion dollars annually). Despite an increased focus on defining the mechanisms of psychopathology within a psychobiological framework, distinct biological processes have yet to be identified specific to individual emotional distress disorders,” Allan writes in his grant proposal.

“These limitations are, in part, responsible for the current paradigm shift in research on psychopathology, embodied by the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). RDoC has proposed a shift to focus on narrow, dimensional, psychological constructs associated with biological processes and behaviors. The limitations of the current diagnostic system also have led to the hierarchical taxonomy of psychopathology (HiTOP), evidence from which supports dividing emotional distress disorders into distress and fear clusters of disorder,” he writes.

“Focusing on constructs that operate as risk factors across multiple emotional distress disorders could integrate these two approaches.”

Two such risk factors are anxiety sensitivity, or the fear of anxious arousal as likely catastrophic, and intolerance of uncertainty, or maladaptive emotional arousal when confronted with potentially negative unknown events.

“The proposed project will 1) establish an approach for linking units of analysis consistent with a psychobiological model and 2) demonstrate convergent and discriminant validity for anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty in relation to the RDoC and HiTOP approaches, thus providing a bridge between the two systems of assessing psychopathology,” Allan concludes.

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