SENSE Lab: Social Emotional Neuroscience Endocrinology


Participate in Research

Blythe A. Corbett, Ph.D. : SENSE Lab Director

Blythe Corbett, PhD Dr. Corbett joined the Vanderbilt faculty in August, 2010 and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. She is a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric neuropsychology. Dr. Corbett was previously a clinical scientist and faculty member at University of California, Davis Department of Psychiatry and the M.I.N.D. Institute from 2001-2010 before joining the Vanderbilt team. 

Dr. Corbett’s young academic career as a clinician-scientist has been a journey from behaviorism to neuroscience, from the macro to the micro, to better understand, inform and treat children with neurodevelopmental disorders.  Dr. Corbett is currently exploring the neural substrates and biological processes related to the perception, interpretation and reaction to socioemotional, information in children with autism using a variety of research methods.

A central hypothesis of Dr. Corbett’s studies is that dysregulation of the amygdala may contribute to various impairments in autism including increased response to potentially threatening stimuli, deficits in implicit and explicit emotion perception and limited social cognition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) permits the in-vivo study of underlying brain regions involved in these processes. As part of the SENSE research program, structural MRI and fMRI probes of socioemotional functioning suggest reduced activity of the amygdala and other limbic brain structures involved in social processing. Structural findings also suggest differences in the size of the amygdala that may be related to age, stress and level of social functioning.   

In parallel, Dr. Corbett has been examining emotional functioning as it pertains to stress-responsive neurobiological systems, including the Limbic-Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical (LHPA) axis. Across a series of studies Dr. Corbett and her collaborators have found differences in the diurnal regulation of cortisol in children with autism which include elevations in the evening related to poor response to change throughout the day.  Additionally, her studies have shown significant elevations in cortisol in response to various social and nonsocial stimuli when compared to typically developing children of the same age and gender.

Dr. Corbett is committed to designing an affective neuroscience program of translational research that will lead to enhanced assessment and treatment of the social-emotional capabilities of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. As part of this commitment, she founded and developed SENSE Theatre, a nonprofit intervention program that utilizes theatre and behavioral science methods to enhance the social and emotional functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. 

Contact Information

  • Phone: (615) 936-0280
  • Email:
  • Mail: PMB 40, 230 Appleton Way, Nashville, TN 37203

Kaiti Dunlap, Research Assistant

Kaiti Dunlap Kaiti Dunlap is very excited to be able to work and learn as a research assistant in Dr. Blythe Corbett’s SENSE lab. Kaiti graduated with distinction with a B.S. in Psychology from Duke University in May 2013. While at Duke she worked in Dr. Gabriel Dichter’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab studying neural correlates of social reward in children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. For her honors thesis, she worked with Dr. Dichter to study the neural correlates of altruism in adults with high functioning autism and how responses to altruistic social stimuli are related to friendship quality. Additionally, Kaiti was very active in the autism community on and off campus. In addition to working with several campus organizations, she founded a social skills group for teens and young adults with autism in the triangle area, and was involved in several community organizations benefitting those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. One organization which was quite impactful on Kaiti’s decision to work with people with autism was her time spent as a camp counselor at Camp Royall, a residential camp program designed for children, teens, and adults with autism.

As a research assistant in Dr. Corbett’s lab, Kaiti will be strongly involved with SENSE Theatre. Currently, Kaiti is actively recruiting for SENSE Theatre and is also responsible for scheduling participants, and carrying out study protocol for the NIMH funded SENSE Theatre project. Additionally, she will be a counselor for the upcoming winter and summer SENSE Theatre interventions. Kaiti looks forward to the opportunity to extend her clinical and research experiences as a member of Dr. Corbett’s lab, while also becoming more involved in the middle Tennessee autism community through SENSE Theatre and other SENSE lab studies.

Contact Information

  • Phone: (615) 322-4132
  • Email:

Kale Edmiston, Graduate Student

Kale EdmistonKale Edmiston is a graduate student in the Vanderbilt Neuroscience PhD program. He obtained a B.A. in liberal arts from Hampshire College in 2007. He then worked as a research assistant at The Yale Mood Disorders Research Program. It was at this time that Kale became interested in the neural correlates of adolescent social and emotional development. His dissertation research in the SENSE lab involves using functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the relationship between brain activity, stress, face processing, and social behavior in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.

In addition to his neuroscience research interests, Kale is committed to supporting the career development of underrepresented groups in the sciences. He is also an advisory member of the Vanderbilt Program for LGBTI Health with an interest in healthcare access for transgender people. When he is not hard at work on these projects, he enjoys spending time with his partner and their two dogs. For a list of current publications, please see:

Contact Information

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Gloria Han, Graduate Student

Gloria HanGloria Han is a first year doctoral student in Clinical Psychology under the mentorship of Blythe Corbett, PhD and Andrew Tomarken, PhD. Gloria graduated magna cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in May 2013, where she majored in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (an interdisciplinary major in the cognitive sciences) and Mathematics (emphasis in Probability and Statistics), and minored in Psychology. As an undergraduate, Gloria worked with individuals with autism through after school programs, a residential summer camp, and community advocacy organizations. Under the mentorship of Michael Gaffrey, PhD at the Early Emotional Development Program at Washington University School of Medicine, Gloria completed her senior honors thesis, which was a pupil dilation (eye tracking) study investigating motivational systems in 4- to 6-year-olds during a reward-processing task. In the summer of 2012, Gloria also participated in the NIH-funded Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics, where she engaged in an intensive 7-week course in biostatistics, followed by an internship investigating cancer prognosis using conditional survival analysis.

At the SENSE Lab, Gloria is interested in continuing her interest in socio-emotional development by investigating social stress, peer interaction, and social reward processing as it relates to ASDs across multiple levels of analysis (e.g., psychophysiology, neuroimaging, behavioral observation). With her background as a musician and dancer, she is also excited to contribute to the SENSE Theater intervention. Under the mentorship of Dr. Tomarken, Gloria is interested in furthering her deep commitment to quantitate methods to inform the clinical science field at large, and to explore data in ways that can clarify the relationships between ASD subtypes and social, cognitive, and behavioral deficits and trajectories in ASDs.

Contact Information

  • Phone: (615) 775-0367
  • Email:

Lydia Qualls: Research Assistant

Lydia QuallsLydia Qualls received her B.A. in Honors Psychology with a concentration in Psychopathology and Clinical Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University in May 2013. While at Vanderbilt, Lydia was involved in many different labs, starting in Dr. Bumni Olautunji’s Emotion and Anxiety Lab as a sophomore, where she assisted Bieke David (now Ph.D.) with her doctoral project on induced disgust and moral decision making. She began working with Dr. David Zald and his post- doctoral fellow, Dr. Greg Samanez Larkin in summer 2011, when she received a grant through the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research program and began investigating the effects of dopamine on decision making across the lifespan. This eventually turned into her senior honors thesis, developed as a part of a collaboration between Dr. Zald and Drs. Scott Wylie and Daniel Claassen, on the effects of dopamine in reward learning in Parkinson’s patients with Impulse Control Disorders. Lydia has presented posters for the CEPO Undergraduate Poster Session at the Southeaster Psychological Association Regional Conference in 2012 and 2013, and received a Psi Chi Regional Research Award at the 2013 conference for her poster related to her honors thesis.

During her first summer in the SENSE lab, Lydia actively participated in the SENSE Theater Summer Camp intervention, mentoring a young participant with ASD and sharing her interest in theatrical performance. Lydia is very interested in helping SENSE Theater grow with the help of the recent R34 grant Dr. Corbett received. Currently, Lydia coordinates recruiting, scheduling, and protocol implementation for the Peer Interaction study and the Adolescent Peer Interaction study. Lydia plans to apply to Clinical Psychology Ph.D. programs to start graduate study in the fall of 2014.

Contact Information

  • Phone: (615) 343-2207
  • Email:

Blythe Valencia, Graduate Student

Blythe Valencia Blythe Valencia received her B.A., with a double major in Psychology and Medical Humanities, from Baylor University, in Waco, Texas in May 2013. During her time at Baylor, Blythe Valencia became very involved in autism research and intervention programs, including play therapy and social skills groups, which focused on developing age appropriate social skills for children with an autism diagnosis.

Blythe Valencia is a current masters student in the Child Studies program at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include the role of peer interaction in the social development of children with an autism diagnosis, as well as the effects that such interactions have on the development of empathy and prosocial behaviors in typically developing peers. As a SENSE lab member, Blythe will be assisting in implementing the peer interaction protocol and conducting detailed behavioral coding. In addition to this, Blythe Valencia is excited to assist in SENSE Theatre, which will provide the opportunity for her to mesh her many years of musical and dance training with her passion for research.

Contact Information

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