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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.

Psychopharmacology and emotion research laboratory

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.

Potentially paradigm-changing findingsM.E. Thase, American Journal of Psychiatry

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

Selected publications


  • PERL at FENS Brain Conference, Copenhagen

    Quite a few of the lab recently attended The Brain Conference on "New Insights into Psychiatric Disorders through Computational, Biological and Developmental Approaches", which was organised by FENS and held in Copenhagen 25-28 September 2016.

  • Congratulations Dr Charlotte Cooper!

    Charlotte successfully defended her DPhil thesis on 3rd August 2016. Michael Browning and Carmine Pariante were her examiners and they recommended that she be awarded a DPhil with no corrections to her thesis.

  • PERL in Brighton at BAP 2016

    There was a great turnout from PERL at the British Association of Psychopharmacology in Brighton this year.

  • Fun at Oxfordshire Science Festival

    PERL spent the weekend at Oxfordshire Science Festival talking to people about our research and how the recognition of facial expressions can be used as a marker of antidepressant effects. We had an interactive task where people could guess the expression of faces using handheld button boxes. It was great to talk to so many children and adults about the work that we do.

  • Congratulations Matthew Warren and Maria Ironside!

    Congratulations to Maria and Matthew who have both had successful DPhil vivas recently. We wish them well as they move on to their next adventures. Maria will be moving to Boston to take up a a postdoc position with Diego Pizzagalli. Matthew has already started work as Press Officer at Oxitec.

  • PERL at SOBP 2016

    Quite a few members of PERL were at the Biological Psychiatry conference in Atlanta this year. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some PERL alumni, including Ciara McCabe and Poornima Kumar who both spoke in a great anhedonia session.

Related research themes