Psychology Faculty, Students Conduct In-person Lab Research on CBD Treatment, Synesthesia, and Aphantasia

By Caitlin Burns | July 27, 2021

By Katherine Haines ’21, ’22

Assistant Professors of Psychology Dr. Juan Duque and Dr. Logan Fields, Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Katherine Moore, and Professor of Psychology Dr. Steve Robbins are collaborating this summer with students to conduct in-person laboratory research.

Dr. Duque and Dr. Fields are exploring how CBD is effective in treating, and potentially preventing, depression, anxiety, and psychosis in the department’s Research on Altruism & PsychoPharmacology (RAPP) rat lab with Biology major Mary Matos ’22.

“This is exciting and much-needed research, because current drug treatments for depression, anxiety, and psychosis are either ineffective or are not well-tolerated and have many side-effects,” said Dr. Duque. “In contrast, CBD is a natural chemical derived from the cannabis plant (marijuana), which is generally much safer with far fewer side effects than other psychiatric drugs. Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are not much better than placebo, while anxiolytics like benzodiazepines are addictive and lethal at high doses. Therefore, we are testing if CBD can be used not only as a relatively safe alternative for a variety of psychiatric issues, but also whether CBD can actually help prevent those issues from arising in the first place.”

Dr. Moore is working in labs studying the skills of special populations in the Attention, Memory and Cognition Labs. For one of her projects, she is working with Psychology major  Sophia Sar ’21 in testing memory skills in people with grapheme-color synesthesia, a neurological condition where individuals involuntarily experience colors when thinking about letters, numbers, or words. Those who experience grapheme-color synesthesia have been found to have superior verbal memory compared to people who do not have synesthesia; Dr. Moore and Sar are working to find out why.
For her second project, Dr. Moore is working with Dr. Robbins, Sar, Jillian Brennan ’22, and Emily Brown ’22 to investigate aphantasia, the inability to mentally visualize. Dr. Moore and Dr. Robbins and their students are focusing more objective ways to understand this population, as it is typically diagnosed through self-reporting measures. Through this research, they hope to learn more about the relationship among memory, perception, and imagery.

“People with aphantasia may not be able to close their eyes and imagine a familiar face,” said Dr. Moore. “While visual imagery has been most studied, aphantasia can extend to other senses like the inability to conjure the taste of chocolate cake, or the inability to play a familiar song through one’s mind’s ear.”

This is the first time the summer Psychology labs have hosted students since 2019.