Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Melissa A Cyders Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Impulsivity Clinical Neuroscience Lab


2003 B.A. Psychology, Ohio University

2003 B.A. Spanish, Ohio University

2005, M.S. Clinical Psychology, University of Kentucky

2009 Clinical Psychology Internship, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and the University of Michigan Medical School

2009 Ph.D. Clinical Psychology, University of Kentucky

Teaching Assignments

Psy I-535 Clinical Neuroscience, Spring semester, even numbered years

Psy I-667 Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder, Spring semester, odd numbered years

Current Research

My program of research focuses on the integration of extreme emotional states with impulsive behaviors, and the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie such behaviors. As you will see from this research statement, my research team and I are interested in how such tendencies increase likelihood for a wide range of maladaptive risk taking, including alcohol use, binge eating, sexting, gambling, and risky sexual practices. Our theory of emotions and impulsive behavior incorporates a beginning-to-end risk model for risky behavior and includes integrative processes across brain activation, genetic underpinnings, personality trait development, trait influence on learning, and moment-to-moment risk-taking decisions (Cyders & Smith, 2008, Psychological Bulletin). Generally, emotions have an adaptive role: they serve to motivate behavior and to draw one’s attention to important aspects of a situation. However, a more maladaptive process can occur in which the actions chosen alter the emotion but do not address the original precipitating need (e.g., drinking in response to a break up, which does not solve the problem or prevent future problems, but only serves to distract the person temporarily).

Through this work, my research team and I have identified two important personality traits, positive urgency and negative urgency, which relate to an individual’s tendency to act rashly in response to extreme positive and negative mood states, respectively. These emotion-based impulsivity traits are the most clinically relevant of impulsivity traits, as they predict problems associated with risk-taking, rather than just simple quantity or frequency of participation in these risky behaviors. To date, we have tested several aspects of our model of urgency, including how urgency exerts risk for the development of risk-taking (Cyders et al., 2007), how urgency interacts with the environment to increase this risk (Settles, et al., 2010), and how urgency biases learning about risk-taking behaviors (Smith et al., 2006). Recently, my students and I conducted a meta-analysis (Coskunpinar, Dir, & Cyders, in press, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research), which further validated the role of the urgency traits for problems associated with alcohol use across 128 existing research studies.

Since coming to IUPUI, I have become more interested in the neurocognitive and neurobiological mechanisms underlying urgency, and have been utilizing innovative technology in order to examine these underlying mechanisms. To do so, I have collaborated with multiple researchers across the IUPUI campus, who have challenged me to think more broadly about our risk model in order to produce high quality research. I will highlight a few studies below.

My graduate students and I recently conducted a study to examine implicit, conditioned responses to alcohol cues. We exposed participants to alcohol and control odors, using an air-dilution olfactometer, and measured attentional biases toward alcohol stimuli, as measured by the dot probe task using eye-tracking technology. This project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the dot probe task, individuals are asked to view a set of two pictures, in which one contains alcohol-related stimuli and the other has control stimuli. Images then disappear, and participants are asked to respond to a follow-up arrow that appears either under the alcohol or non-alcohol image. Faster response times to arrows that appear under alcohol images reflect biased attention toward alcohol stimuli. Additionally, eye tracking tells us which stimuli the participant viewed and for how long, providing us with a more direct measure of attentional biases. This paper (Coskunpinar et al., in press, Journal of Experimental Psychopathology) shows that negative urgency predicts attentional biases toward alcohol stimuli, independent of emotional state. As a follow-up to this study, we have recently submitted a meta-analysis examining the relationship between substance-related attentional biases and multiple conceptualizations of impulsivity (Coskunpinar & Cyders, under review).

In 2011, I was awarded a five-year Mentored K01 Career Development Grant from NIAAA to further examine underlying neurobiological predictors of emotion-based rash action and alcohol abuse. This K01 grant is providing me with the requisite training in functional magnetic resonance imaging and intraveneous alcohol administration in order to further study the underlying mechanisms driving urgency tendencies. The first specific aim, completed under the mentorship of David Kareken, Department of Neurology, involved examination of neural responses to alcohol aromas during emotional states, and how this activation could be predicted by positive and negative urgency. We sampled 27 adult social drinkers, and had them undergo a series of psychological questionnaires and interviews, as well as a three-hour fMRI imaging session. Participants were asked to view negative, neutral, or positive images in blocked groups, while also smelling a combination of alcohol and control odorants. There was increased left mPFC activation to alcohol aromas in the negative mood state, but not in the positive mood state. The mPFC is an areas associated with the subjective reward value of stimuli, ans suggests that alchol aromas have increased reward value in negative emotional states. In addition, we found that negative urgency significantly predicts this left mPFC activation, suggesting that negative urgency’s effects on increased risk for alcohol use might be through its effects on increasing the subjective reward value of alcohol during negative mood states. This is the first study to show biological evidence of emotion-based rash action, and serves to suggest a neural mechanism for how alcohol might be used during extreme negative mood states. Such knowledge can lead to more appropriate interventions to mitigate the risks associated with negative emotion-based alcohol use (as we have previously documented).

The second specific aim of the K01 grant, under the mentorship of Sean O’Connor, Department of Psychiatry, is to examine how urgency affects lab-based consumption of alcohol. In this study, we will expose heavy alcohol drinkers to negative, positive, and neutral mood manipulations, and will allow them to engage in a progressive work task in order to self-administer alcohol intravenously, a method that is more sensitive to detecting factors modulating alcohol self-administration (see Plawecki et al., 2004; Zimmerman et al., 2008, 2009). Specifically, we hypothesize that (1) negative urgency will predict increased working for alcohol self-administration in negative emotional states and (2) positive urgency will predict increased working for alcohol self-administration in positive emotional states. We believe that this increased working for intravenous alcohol will reflect the increased reward value of alcohol during emotional states. This study allows us to go beyond brain activation patterns and to examine how increased reward value might translate into increased consumption during emotional states. The training in fMRI and intraveneous alcohol administration techniques is helping not only myself, but also the training of my graduate students who have been assisting on these studies.

Select Publications

Coskunpinar, A., Dir, A. L., & Cyders, M. A. (in press). Multidimensionality of impulsivity and alcohol use: From small to robust effect sizes using the UPPS-P model of impulsivity. Manuscript in press, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Dir, A. L., Coskunpinar, A., & Cyders, M. A. (in press). From the bar to the bed via mobile phone: A First test of the role of problematic alcohol use, sexting, and impulsivity-related traits for sexual hookups. Manuscript in press, Computers and Human Behavior.

Cyders, M. A. (in press). Impulsivity and the sexes: Measurement and construct invariance of the UPPS-P impulsivity scale. Manuscript in press in Assessment. doi: 10.1177/1073191111428762

Cyders, M .A. & Coskunpinar, A. (2011). Measurement of constructs using self-report and behavioral lab tasks: Is there overlap in nomothetic span and construct representation for impulsivity? Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 965 – 982. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.06.001

Cyders, M. A., & Smith, G. T. (2008). Emotion-based dispositions to rash action: The trait of urgency. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 807-828.