Southwestern to Host Neurobiology Symposium
Georgetown, TX ― Southwestern University presents “Social and Emotional Development and Risk: The Role of Neurobiology” featuring Dr. James Blair and Southwestern University alumnae Dr. Laura Thornton ’09 and Rachel Thibodeau ’13. Speakers will present on Wednesday, April 5, at 3 p.m. in the F.W. Olin Building, room 105; presentations will also be streamed online. The event is co-sponsored by Psi Chi and Active Minds and will be free and open to the public.
Recent advancements in technology have moved our understanding of human development and psychopathology from broad behavioral definitions towards biological, psychological, and social mechanisms. This push towards understanding the underlying neurobiology of both normative and atypical development has been considerably advanced by neuroimaging techniques. This symposium brings together the leading theorist on the neurodevelopment of psychopathy, Dr. James Blair, and Dr. Laura Thornton and Rachel Thibodeau, two Southwestern alumnae and early-career scientists who focus on understanding typical and atypical neurodevelopment. Their presentations will highlight current scientific and theoretical advancements in the field of developmental neuroscience. Topics discussed will include early interventions for at-risk children, the role of trauma in the development of antisocial behavior, and the use of behavioral neuroscience to further understanding of antisocial behavior and callous-unemotional traits.
Dr. James Blair
James Blair, PhD is Director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital. Dr. Blair is an internationally renowned expert on the cognitive neuroscience of psychopathology, particularly with respect to aggression, violence and psychopathy. He has published over 200 scientific manuscripts on these and diverse other basic neuroscience and psychiatric issues. Dr. Blair received a doctorate in Psychology from University College London in 1993 under the supervision of Professor John Morton. Following graduation he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Mental Health Research Fellowship that he held at the Medical Research Council Cognitive Development Unit for three years. Subsequently, he moved to the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London. There, with Uta Frith, he helped form and co-lead the Developmental Disorders group, and was ultimately appointed Senior Lecturer. He joined the NIMH Intramural Research Program in 2002 where he was Chief of the Section on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience until 2016.
Dr. Blair’s primary research interests involve understanding the neurocognitive systems underlying psychopathology, particularly for disruptive behavior, anxiety, and mood disorders. Dr. Blair is also interested in the effects of substance use and trauma on neurocognitive functioning and psychopathology. His research approach includes techniques employed in cognitive neuroscience including both neuropsychology and functional MRI.
Dr. Laura Thornton ’09
Laura Thornton, PhD ’09 is a Developmental Psychologist and currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Boys Town National Research Hospital’s Center for Neurobehavioral Research. She earned her doctorate in Applied Developmental Psychology in 2015 from the University of New Orleans under the supervision of Paul Frick, PhD. Her dissertation examined the developmental pathway associated with callous-unemotional (CU) traits and the utility of CU traits and emotional deficits in predicting later antisocial outcomes for juvenile justice-involved youth. Dr. Thornton’s research interests focus on the developmental neurobiology of CU traits as well as how CU traits affect youths’ involvement in antisocial behavior, interactions with peers, and other high-risk behaviors.
Rachel Thibodeau ’13 is currently a 4th year graduate student in the department of psychology at The University of Alabama working under the mentorship of Dr. Ansley Gilpin. She completed her undergraduate degree at Southwestern University in 2013 and is now finishing a PhD in Developmental Science and Cognitive Psychology with a minor in statistics at Alabama. Motivated by recent declines in academic performance, Rachel’s research interests focus on discovering mechanisms to facilitate emerging cognitive, emotional, and social skills in typically developing and at-risk children. Rachel’s dissertation research is exploring how pretend-play can serve as a protective factor to minimize deficits in school readiness in an at-risk Head Start population. She recently received a competitive dissertation grant from the Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services to fund this research. Next fall, Rachel will be joining the faculty in the Human Development and Family Science department at the University of Missouri as an Assistant Professor.
Southwestern is a selective, nationally recognized undergraduate liberal arts and sciences university located in Georgetown, Texas. Established in 1840, it is the first institution of higher learning in Texas. Southwestern’s residential campus offers a true liberal arts education with small classes and numerous collaborative undergraduate research opportunities. Its academic offerings include Paideia, an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to study, and close faculty-student collaboration. Students volunteer in the community at more than twice the national average and our scholar-athletes compete on one of 20 NCAA Division III varsity teams. For more information, visit www.southwestern.edu.