Introduction to Functional MRI Research and Applications to Social Work

Sunday, January 18, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies N, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Mental Health
Jessica M. Black, PhD, Boston College and Shaun M. Eack, PhD, University of Pittsburgh
Social work research draws upon the biopsychosocial model of development but  the biological domain has been much less explored and not systematically integrated into study designs. However, attention to neuroscientific research within the social sciences has grown considerably, and this new direction presents exciting opportunities for social work researchers. Specifically, recent advancements in functional MRI (fMRI) allow us to view the human brain in action. Therefore these advancements provide a complimentary vantage point to understand, define and intervene with human conditions, such as psychopathology, that were once examined through behavioral methods alone (e.g. interview, neuropsychological testing, observer checklists).

This fMRI workshop will be led by two social work scholars who conduct fMRI research studies with children and adults and who have published in leading neuroimaging journals. The workshop will provide an introduction to fMRI, with an emphasis on research designs that are relevant and applicable to social work, specifically mental health. Throughout the workshop the presenters will use concrete examples drawn in part from their own fMRI research (on topics such as schizophrenia, learning disabilities, resilience) and will frame the discussion using the biopsychosocial model of development.

The presenters will discuss the following topics: 1) fMRI background: The purpose, basic scientific principles, and current state of research related to social work will be discussed. 2) Basic methods and stimuli: General experimental design followed by the design, selection, and presentation of scanner stimuli will be explored. 3) Analysis of brain data: Analytic tools to make sense of brain imaging findings will be examined briefly. 4) Making sense of the results: The presenters will explain how brain data can be used in conjunction with more standard behavioral measures, and will also highlight some limitations of neuroimaging tools. 5) Future directions: Finally, the presenters will discuss potential pathways to learning more about neuroimaging work conducted in the participants’ areas of interest, will speak about their respective experience conducting fMRI research within the field of social work, and will share ways to become involved in conducting neuroimaging research. All material will be presented in a format designed for an informed social work research audience without a formal background in neuroimaging. The presenters will then welcome questions and lead a discussion about neuroimaging research within the field of social work. By the conclusion of the workshop participants will be able to describe the basic principles and design of fMRI experiments, interpret basic results and analyses from fMRI studies, identify resources for further intermediate and advanced education on the topic, and formulate social work research questions that are integrated with neuroscience research.

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