My name is Matt Mattoni, I’m a senior from Sarasota, Florida double majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology with a minor in Chemistry. I came to UNC as a psychology major, but after taking introduction to neuroscience my first semester I became more interested in the biological mechanisms of human behavior; I’m excited to have the opportunity to finish the new neuroscience major! I’ve worked in Dr. Flavio Frohlich’s Carolina Neuroscience Center for a few years, researching how external electromagnetic factors affect neural functioning. The research in Dr. Frohlich’s lab was largely EEG based, and I eventually became interested in exploring other aspects of neuroscience research.
Through the Gil Internship, I’ve had the pleasure of being a research assistant in Dr. Ayse Belger’s Neurocognition and Research Imaging Laboratory (NIRL). The lab in general studies the cognitive processes associated with the development of mental disorders, and the current large project, CogNiT, is using fMRIs and EEGs to study possible factors putting adolescents at-risk for schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders. CogNiT has been an ongoing study and the lab has collected enough data where large scale data analysis is a current focus. I’ve been able to assist in the collection of both the EEG and fMRI scans, which has been an educational experience and useful for my future applications. I’ve also assisted in our stressor tasks for both types of scans, which we utilize to study how an acute response to stress affects neural mechanisms. For the EEG scan, we use the Trier Social Stress task, in which our adolescent participants are required to give a 5-minute speech and 5-minute verbal math test under the guise that they are being observed by academic & body language professionals. For the MRI scans, we utilize the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST), in which participants conduct a math test in the scanner and are falsely led to believe that their performance is well below that of their peers. In both instances, participants are later debriefed that the tests were set up to stress them and are not indicative of actual performance of ability. Playing a role in these tasks has been not interesting in that I’ve learned how we can use standard research techniques to study particular aspects of behavior.
Additionally, I’ve taken on a project with data analysis on how the stress response to the MIST is related to cognitive performance and individual traits. Getting the opportunity to analyze data to create my own poster is an exciting opportunity as an undergraduate, and the combination of this with my roles in data collection has given me a unique perspective on how our quantitative stress measurements of participants are behaviorally expressed, allowing for better interpretation of my results.
This internship at NIRL has been an exciting and stimulating experience for me and should also be beneficial for my future in psychology and neuroscience. I hope to apply to Clinical Psychology PhD programs in the future, and my experience working with adolescents, research techniques such as EEG and fMRIs, data analysis, and poster creation are all valuable to strengthen my resume and prepare me for further education and a career in research.