Current Projects

Ambulatory assessment of Personality, Ecological Context, and Stress Study (AAPECSS)

What processes account for the exacerbation, maintenance, and resolution of personality pathology?

Major theoretical models argue that personality disorders (PDs) reflect the maladaptive expression of personality traits via dynamic processes that are extreme, rigid, or mismatched to environmental cues.  Although these dynamic processes likely reflect the maintenance mechanisms of PDs, and despite the fact that they provide optimal targets for clinical interventions, they remain understudied and poorly understood.  It also seems likely these dynamic processes form a vicious cycle, in that they both predispose individuals to stressful experiences and arise from maladaptive self-regulation in response to stressors in the environment.  The goal of this project is to use ambulatory assessment techniques (smart phone administered surveys and smart watch assessed ambulatory psychophysiology) to study the daily dynamic processes of stress and responses to that stress, and how levels of PD traits amplify or dampen those processes.  Specifically, drawing on several concepts from the stress literature that mesh with theories of PD may provide insights into key maladaptive features of these debilitating disorders.  These include, stress generation, stress sensitivity, and maladaptive self-regulation.  Consistent with a dimensional perspective on PD, these processes will be studied in a large group of diverse individuals from the community, ranging from those with few interpersonal problems to those with significant difficulties. 

We have generously been granted support from the University of Pittsburgh's Central Research Development Fund for this study. 

Adapting Methods to Refine the Empirical Structure of Personality AND Psychopathology

  Figure 2.   Diagram of the full Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME) solution for 7 variables assessed by daily diary over 100-days in a sample of individuals (N=35) diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  Note, this model is preliminary, and is intended to demonstrate proof of concept, not provide definitive statements about the group, sub-group, and individual dynamic structures of daily behavior in borderline personality disorder. 

Figure 2. Diagram of the full Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME) solution for 7 variables assessed by daily diary over 100-days in a sample of individuals (N=35) diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.  Note, this model is preliminary, and is intended to demonstrate proof of concept, not provide definitive statements about the group, sub-group, and individual dynamic structures of daily behavior in borderline personality disorder. 

An enduring challenge to the empirical study and effective treatment of personality disorders is the lack of a scientifically supported "structure" of personality pathology.  That is to say, that although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides a summary of 10 personality disorder diagnoses, in fact these do a poor job of mapping the actual phenotypic diversity of this form of psychopathology.  An ongoing aim of the lab is to enlist quantitative methods to further clarify the empirical structure of personality pathology (and psychopathology more generally).  Past efforts in the lab have used a number of latent variable modeling techniques applied to psychiatric interview data and dispositional self-report measures (e.g., Wright et al., 2012; Wright, Hallquist, et al., 2013Wright, Krueger, et al., 2013; Wright & Simms, 2014, 2015; Sharp et al., 2015).  Currently, we are working with colleagues to adapt Group Iterative Multiple Model Estimation (GIMME), developed for the study of connectivity networks in fMRI data, for the study of the structure of psychopathology.  GIMME fits individual structural equation models to multivariate time-series, and uncovers full-group, sub-group, and individual-specific paths among variables.  Developed for the study of individual differences in connectivity among regions of interest in the brain, we are studying the applicability of these models to behaviors sampled intensively and repeatedly in naturalistic settings (e.g., daily diaries).  Initial results (see Figure 2) are encouraging, and suggest the method holds unique promise for the simultaneous uncovering of shared (i.e., nomothetic) and person-specific (i.e., idiographic) psychological processes in samples of interest.  

EXAMINING Dynamic Processes Underlying Manifestations of Pathological Narcissism

Narcissism has captivated the interest of clinicians, researchers across diverse fields, and popular media. Pathological narcissism can have devastating personal and social impacts. Despite longstanding interest in the narcissism, the scientific study of it has been heating up over the past decade. Most of this research uses dispositional measures, which ask how individuals generally behave, think, and feel across a wide range of situations. However, clinical observation, theory, and emerging research suggests that narcissism manifests in fluctuations between grandiose and vulnerable states over time. Therefore, we seek to understand what leads to exacerbations of grandiosity (e.g., exhibitionism, explotaitiveness) and vulnerability (e.g., defensive withdrawal, hostility) across time and situations. We are currently working on basic measurement of momentary grandiosity and vulnerability (Edershile et al., in preparation), fundamental description of the timing and patterning of the expression and shifts between states (e.g., using dynamic structural equation modeling of ambulatory assessment data in both student and community samples), as well as triggers for each state (e.g., Wright et al., 2017). 

Upcoming Projects

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