Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Psychology, PhD
Mario Laborda, a doctoral student in psychology focusing on cognitive and behavioral science, traces his interest in the scientific study of behavior to a class he took as an undergraduate student at the University of Chile, which included coverage of current research on learning and memory in humans and animals. His instructor, Ronald Betancourt, encouraged Laborda to work in his research laboratory, where Laborda helped examine the role of Pavlovian associations in the development and maintenance of alcohol tolerance in rats. The research reinforced his commitment to study behavioral science and cognition.
In 2005, Laborda organized an international conference to discuss basic psychology and its practical applications, where he met Binghamton University’s Distinguished Professor of Psychology Ralph R. Miller. Despite the fact that this meeting with Miller was his first experience speaking English, Laborda says they were able to have a meaningful scientific discussion and exchange of ideas.
The following year, Miller invited Laborda to a meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Baltimore, Md., to present his work. The meeting was followed up by a trip to Binghamton University. “My experience during the meeting and during the visit to Binghamton convinced me that this was the place where I should pursue my doctoral studies,” Laborda says. “I’ve been working in Dr. Miller’s lab since 2007… The best aspect of my graduate training has been working with Dr. Miller,” Laborda says. “I’ll certainly try to emulate his methodical approach to the scientific endeavor as I continue in my own research.”
Laborda has used an animal model to examine and evaluate associative processes involved in the origins or causes of anxiety disorders in humans. In studying the underpinnings of where and how anxiety disorders arise — of what associations contribute to the onset of anxiety — Laborda also seeks to learn more about how to treat such disorders and thus also studies the effectiveness of various attempts to reestablish emotional homeostasis.
“The idea … is to study the underlying mechanisms responsible for the extinction of fear as well as the return of [previously] extinguished fear,” he explains. “In the long term, we hope to continue translating our findings to more clinical situations, evaluating whether techniques that reduce the return of [previously] eliminated, lab-induced fear can also reduce the relapse for [human] patients with anxiety disorders after exposure therapy.”
At Binghamton University, Laborda has already extended the applications of his research to real-world settings and practice. “In collaboration with Associate Professor Meredith Coles, director of the Binghamton Anxiety Clinic, we have evaluated the effectiveness of some behavioral manipulations (derived from the findings of animal research) in reducing the return of public speaking fear (in a nonclinical sample).”
Looking forward, Laborda will move full-circle, returning home as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chile. “I think that the research focus of the cognitive and behavioral sciences program at Binghamton University has been very helpful in preparing me for my academic career,” he says.
In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in experimental psychology, behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology at the University of Chile, Laborda hopes to dedicate “at least” half of his time to research. In collaboration with Betancourt and Professor Vanetza Quezada, he has applied for grants to finance additional research on the associative basis of fear and anxiety. “I also hope to dedicate some time to study the history of psychology in Chile,” Laborda says. “In 2010 I co-edited a book on this topic and I’d like to make some further contributions to this area as well.”