Research Projects

MERL's work centers primarily on two lines of research: (i) understanding mechanisms in mental health problems and (ii) novel treatments in severe mental illness.

Select the headers below to learn more about each of these topics as they pertain to our lab.

Exploring mechanisms in mental health allows us to better understand how complex, often treatment-resistant, mental processes operate.


Mechanism-centered research that MERL is interested in includes:

  • Investigations into how deficits in the anticipation of pleasure impact motivation and quality of life in people with schizophrenia.
  • Research on understanding specifically how loneliness affects people with severe mental illness, as well as the individuals without a severe mental illness
  • Research focusing on the importance of understanding how we make sense of the word. In particular we are interested in the role that ambiguity tolerance plays in the development of psychopathology. Ambiguity tolerance is the degree that people understand their experience in complex and nuanced ways, versus simple black and white, or either/or ways.

What is a mental health mechanism?

Researchers use the term mechanism for variables that influence a larger process. A mechanism can often be the ‘driver’ in a symptom or problem. By understanding that driver, more effective means for treating symptoms can be developed. For example, in our research on understanding pleasure in schizophrenia, we found that people with schizophrenia have trouble anticipating that things will be pleasurable, but actually get enjoyment out of things (Gard et al., 2007). In another example, we have found that how people make sense of their daily experience is very much related to their symptoms of depression, anxiety and well being. Specifically, people with better a tolerance for ambiguity tend to have lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, and higher feelings of well-being (Gibson, et al., 2020).

Current mental health treatments are not always as accessible or as effective as we need them to be. For this reason we have begun to explore novel treatments for various problems and disorders.

Novel treatment research that MERL is interested in includes:

  • Psychedelic-assisted therapy among those diagnosed with Bipolar-II Disorder (Learn more)
  • App-based interventions to improve motivation and social skills in people with schizophrenia
  • Digital phenotyping - or the assessment of phone use as a means of predicting problems in people with severe mental illness (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder)