JJ Morrow is currently a PhD student in the Gothard Lab at the University Arizona Medical Center in the USA.
JJ about his research
I am interested in the neural basis of emotion and social behavior. In my current research, I focus on how the brain, particularly the amygdala, encodes the affective dimensions of tactile (touch) stimuli. The importance of the emotional components of touch has been scientifically studied since the days of Harry Harlow; however, how the brain encodes and interprets these components remains an open question. Given the prominent role of the amygdala in functions related to the evaluation of stimuli, the generation of emotional responses, and the processing of social stimuli it is highly likely that this structure is also involved in the processing of the emotional and/or social dimensions of touch. Due to the relative lack of data on how the amygdala processes tactile stimuli, we are currently conducting research to answer some basic questions:
1) How does the primate amygdala respond to non-aversive tactile stimuli?
2) Is there a distinct population of neurons in the amygdala which preferentially encode tactile stimuli?
3) Does social context alter the activity of touch-sensitive neurons in the amygdala?
To address these questions, we record single-unit activity and local field potentials in the amygdala of awake, behaving monkeys as they receive tactile stimuli from an automated airflow delivery system or researchers with extensive monkey handling experience. We hope that building a better understanding of how the emotional components of touch are processed in the brain will lead to improvements in the treatment of somatosensory-related symptoms of diseases like autism.
Another major branch of my work will be to determine how inputs from multiple sensory modalities are integrated at the level of single neurons in the amygdala. I am also interested in the motor control of facial expressions, specifically, how structures like the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex contribute to emotional expression.