Ph.D. 2004, Northwestern
My research pertains to psychological and neural underpinnings of emotion processing and emotion-cognition interactions, and how these mechanisms are implicated in anxiety disorders. I study emotion processing at different stages, categorized as “quick-and-dirty” analysis versus slower-yet-elaborate evaluation of stimulus information. My findings suggest that emotion processes interact with diverse cognitive operations, in an automatic or even unconscious fashion, resulting in various cognitive biases that are especially salient in anxious individuals. On the other hand, my research demonstrates that emotional experiences can lead to remarkable cognitive improvement, highlighting the extraordinary capacity humans possess to maximize ecological advantage. Nevertheless, impairment in this kind of learning may underlie anxiety symptoms characterized by excessive sensory sensitivity and hypervigilance. Given the unique psychological and neural intimacy between olfaction and emotion, olfactory (in addition to visual) stimuli are often applied in my experiments to facilitate emotional responses. Multiple approaches and methodologies, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERPs), autonomic physiology and sensory psychophysics, are incorporated in my investigations.
Li, W., Howard, J. D., Parrish, T., & Gottfried, J.A. (2008). Aversive learning enhances perceptual and cortical discrimination of indiscriminable odor cues. Science, 319, 1842-1845. [Highlighted in Nature, 452, 506 (2008).]
Li, W., Zinbarg, R.E., Boehm, S.G., & Paller, K.A. (2008). Neural and behavioral evidence for affective priming from unconsciously perceived emotional facial expressions and the influence of trait anxiety. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 1-13.
Li, W., Paller, K.A., & Zinbarg, R.E. (2008). Unconscious priming of threat words varies with trait anxiety. Cognition and Emotion, 22, 44-62.
Li, W., Moallem, I., Paller, K.A. & Gottfried, J.A. (2007). Subliminal smells can guide social preferences. Psychological Science, 18, 1044-1049.
Li, W., Zinbarg, R.E., & Paller, K.A. (2007). Trait anxiety modulates both supraliminal and subliminal threat: Brain potential evidence for both early and late processing. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 25-36.
Li, W., Luxenberg, E., Parrish, T., & Gottfried, J.A. (2006). Learning to smell the roses: experience-dependent plasticity in human piriform and orbitofrontal cortices. Neuron, 52, 1097-1108. [Featured in college textbook—“Psychology” by D. Schacter, D. Gilbert & D. Wegner, Worth Publishers, 2007.]