Dr. Annmarie MacNamara is clinical psychologist who joined our faculty last year. Work in her Multimethod Affect and Cognition (MAC) lab uses brain and psychophysiological measures to study emotional responses in psychiatric health and disease. The long-term goal of her research is to reduce the cost and suffering associated with emotional disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression) by improving diagnosis and guiding new treatments.
Hi Annmarie, as someone who has just joined our department, can you tell us what attracted you to Texas A & M?
I was attracted to Texas A&M because of support for brain research at the university, college and departmental level, as well as the collegial environment.
What first got you interested in psychology?
I’m sure the true origins of my interests could be traced back to childhood, but in terms of more recent influences, I took a social psychology course as a freshman at McGill University, which was taught by a dynamic professor who went on to become my honors thesis advisor. This course and professor single-handedly piqued my interest in the field of psychology.
Can you tell us what in your field is the most important problem that needs to be solved?
The most important problem facing my field (clinical psychology) is to discover what biological abnormalities underlie anxiety, depression and other emotional disorders. Unlike other areas of medicine, psychiatry and clinical psychology have no biological tests to help with diagnosis or treatment assignment. It’s hard to know what to treat if you don’t know what’s causing the problem.
I know it is early in your career, but can you tell us what are some of your most important research findings?
Well, I hope that over the course of my career I might have a handful of important findings. This early on in my career (1st year assistant professor), I’m not sure I have the perspective to say which of my findings so far are really important. That being said, I am partial to our work showing that when people perform a demanding cognitive task they pay less attention to distracting pictures, as measured by electrical brain activity. We have replicated this finding several times (replication is essential, I think, for any finding to be deemed “important”), and have shown that it does not depend on other factors, such as where people look within a picture. Moreover, we have shown that this effect is reduced in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, suggesting less flexible processing of distracting stimuli in anxiety.
Is your research supported by a federal research grant?
I am grateful for support from the National Institute of Mental Health. I have a Career Development Award that funds a line of my work that uses novel methods to record multiple biological measures simultaneously to map the brain basis of negative emotion across a spectrum of patients with anxiety disorders, ranging from mild to very severe.
What undergraduate courses have you or will you teach? Briefly, what is your philosophy of teaching?
I will teach undergraduate statistics in the fall of 2017. I like the idea of equipping students with a skill or a tool that they can use. My teaching philosophy is to emphasize the intrinsically rewarding aspects of learning – the parts that feel like play because they allow us to create and build.