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We explore how the brain processes emotional information and how this is influenced by brain chemicals and medicines. This helps us to understand disorders such as depression and anxiety and to understand and contribute to the development of drug and psychological treatments.

The Psychopharmacology and Emotion Research Laboratory explores the ways in which the brain processes emotional information and how this is affected by neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. As well as telling us about normal brain function, this may help us understand emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety and how these may be helped by drug treatments that affect neurotransmitter function. We attempt to understand how conventional treatments may work, how mechanisms underlying treatment efficacy interact with psychological treatments, and also whether we can predict new candidate treatments for depression and anxiety using these experimental medicine models.


The group comprises a multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacologists and neuroscientists and aims to explore these questions using human models of cognitive and emotional processing. Our methodologies include psychopharmacological challenges, neuropsychological testing, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and functional neuroimaging with fMRI, MEG and PET in healthy volunteers, patient and at-risk groups.


A major output of the group has been the development of a human model of antidepressant drug action (the Cognitive Neuropsychological Model; Harmer et al., 2009, British Journal of Psychiatry), based on the results of a series of studies which showed that antidepressant drugs bias emotional processing towards positive information much earlier than antidepressant effects on mood can be detected. Such changes are believed to contribute to the recovery from depression with the delay in antidepressants’ clinical efficacy arising from the need to translate the changes in emotional processing into subjective improvement in mood through interactions with the environment and the gradual relearning of non-depressive, emotional associations.

Our team


NIHR Oxford Health Experimental Medicine and Industry Partnership

Following on from the AIM day the Experimental Medicine and Industry Partnership (EMIP) has been established at the Oxford Health BRC to support commercial organisations who are looking to implement experimental medicine approaches in their psychiatric treatment development programmes.

Current studies

Glutamate Emotion Memory Study (GEMS)

Looking for people aged between 20 and 60 with current depression, who have shown inadequate response to at least one and no more than three antidepressant treatments.

Combined Antidepressant and Behavioural Intervention (CABIN) Study

Looking for volunteers low in mood and activity


Looking for volunteers who have had episodes of depression in the past but are not currently taking antidepressants, to take part in a 7 day study looking at the effect of a licensed drug, prucalopride.

Related research themes