Welcome to the website for the Psychophysiology of Emotion and Personality laboratory (PEPlab), directed by Dr. Stephen Benning (CV) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The research in my lab addresses three main topic areas:
1) How do psychopathic traits manifest themselves and affect people’s functioning? I have developed a model of psychopathy that cleaves these traits into two unrelated factors. Fearless dominance is the part of psychopathy associated with the charming, anxiety-free, and fearless impression that can be used to wheedle a person’s way into others’ lives and convince them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. The other factor is impulsive antisociality, which captures the aggressive, uncontrolled lifestyle that causes so much harm to those high in this factor and to society. I use psychophysiological and behavioral tools to examine how those with psychopathic traits think, feel, and act differently from others. I am particularly concerned with how individuals with psychopathy cause problems for those around them.
2) How can we best measure positive emotion in various situations and in psychopathology? I have developed a psychophysiological measure of positive emotion (the postauricular reflex) whose magnitude is greater during pleasant than neutral or aversive emotional states. Though this reflex is good at measuring moment-to-moment positive emotions, it has yet to be fully elucidated what sorts of emotions it best measures and how it can be best used to examine how positive emotion goes awry in mental disorders. I have been working on translating an animal model of reward processing to examine how different parts of positive emotion (wanting, liking, and reward learning) may play unique roles in generating psychological disorders.
3) How can we understand risk-taking behavior as a function of personality and emotion? Living in Las Vegas, there are plenty of opportunities to study the risks people take in various forms. I have focused on modeling physical risk taking and exploring how emotional and personality factors impact people’s willingness to engage in physical risk in a computer task.