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Lab Staff—Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain


Principal Investigator

Lauren Atlas, Ph.D.

Lauren Y. Atlas, Ph.D.

Tenure-track Investigator
Phone: (301) 827-0214

Dr. Atlas received her B.A. in psychology from The University of Chicago in 2003, and her Ph.D. in psychology in 2011 from Columbia University, where she studied under the mentorship of Dr. Tor D. Wager. Her doctoral work combined functional magnetic resonance imaging, experimental psychology, and psychopharmacology to examine the mechanisms by which beliefs and expectations influence pain and its modulation. Her dissertation, “Brain mechanisms of expectancy effects on pain experience,” was awarded with distinction. Dr. Atlas’s postdoctoral research was conducted in Dr. Elizabeth A. Phelps’s laboratory at New York University, where she extended computational models of decision-making to isolate components of expectancy, and to understand how these components influence physiological and neural markers of aversive learning. In July 2014, Dr. Atlas joined NIH as an NCCIH investigator and chief of the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain. She also holds a joint appointment with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Her laboratory uses a multi-modal approach to investigate how expectations and learning influence pain and emotion, and how these factors influence clinical outcomes.

Lab Members

Liz Necka

Elizabeth Necka, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Liz Necka, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral IRTA fellow and will conduct research on the social and autonomic factors which are related to the experience of pain, and will be exploring how individual differences in expectations about and perceptions of the social world, as well as the patient-provider interaction, are related to processing of noxious stimuli. This research will take a multi-modal approach, and will include collecting neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and behavioral data from healthy volunteers. Dr. Necka received her Ph.D., as well as her master’s, in psychology from the University of Chicago. While there, she worked in Greg Norman’s lab, where her dissertation research examined the relations between hormonal fluctuations across the menstrual cycle and women’s perceptions of and behaviors towards others.

View Dr. Necka’s publications


Troy Dildine

Troy Dildine, Predoctoral IRTA Fellow

As a predoctoral IRTA fellow through the Graduate Partnership Program, Troy will be pursuing a Ph.D. in medicine between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Karolinska Institutet. Troy will be using neuroimaging and psychophysiological measures to study health disparities in pain. Prior to this, Troy spent two years as a postbac IRTA fellow at NCCIH. Troy completed an honors thesis in neuroscience at Dartmouth College under the mentorship of Professor Catherine Norris, and he spent a year under the guidance of Professor Tiffany Ito at the University of Colorado Boulder. Outside of the laboratory, Troy enjoys running ultra-marathons, meditating, fikas, and slam poetry.


Esther Palacios-Barrios

Esther Palacios-Barrios, Postbac IRTA Fellow

As a postbac IRTA fellow at NIH, Esther will use imaging and psychophysiological techniques to study expectancy and pain. Previously, Esther was a research assistant in the Dr. Ian Gotlib lab at Stanford University, where Esther completed her honors thesis on motivational anhedonia in individuals with pure and comorbid major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. She also worked in the Dr. Rebecca Bernert lab at Stanford. Esther holds a B.A. in psychology (with honors) from Stanford.


Lauren Banker

Lauren Banker, Postbac IRTA Fellow

As a postbac IRTA fellow, Lauren will be utilizing both imaging and psychophysiological techniques to study the neuropsychological processes involved in expectancy, aversive learning, and pain. This past summer, Lauren had interned for the Atlas Lab. During her undergraduate career at New York University, Lauren was a research assistant for Dr. Clayton Curtis in the Curtis Lab. There, she studied the neuropsychological processes of working memory and attention, utilizing eye tracking, brain imaging, and brain stimulation techniques. Lauren received a B.S. in applied psychology, with a minor in web programming and applications, from New York University in January 2016 (Magna Cum Laude).


Lab Alumni

Dominik Mischkowski, Ph.D.

Dominik Mischkowski, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow​​​​​​​ - Dr. Mischkowski received his M.S. in psychology in 2008 from the University of Konstanz (Germany), where he completed a master’s thesis under the supervision of Dr. Sean McCrea. Afterwards, he moved to the United States to earn his Ph.D. in psychology from The Ohio State University in 2015, where he worked with Dr. Jennifer Crocker and Dr. Baldwin Way. His doctoral work combined a psychopharmacological approach with social psychological paradigms to study how suppressing physical pain sensitivity influences social affect, perception, and behavior. His interests concern how the social environment shapes people’s experience of physical pain, as well as how physical pain regulates people’s social interactions. Dr. Mischkowski joined Dr. Atlas Affective Neuroscience and Pain lab at the NCCIH in 2015, where he received training in fMRI to study the psychosocial influences on physical pain perception and processing.

View Dr. Mischkowsi’s publications

(from L to R): Bethany Sauls, Bethany Leidl, Caitlin Stavish, Lauren Banker
(from left): Bethany Sauls, Bethany Leidl,
Caitlin Stavish, Lauren Banker

  • Lauren Banker, Summer Student
  • Bethany Leidi, Summer Student
  • Bethany Sauls, Summer Student
  • Caitlin Stavish, Special Volunteer
Chrissy Sandman

Chrissy Sandman - Chrissy served as a postbac research assistant in the Atlas lab, working on a project that uses fMRI and psychophysiology to investigate how expectations shape aversive conditioning. In 2014 Chrissy earned her B.A. from New York University, where she designed an interdisciplinary major, “Emotion in the Mind-Body Problem” that combined neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and music. Her psychology honors thesis, completed under the mentorship of Dr. Lauren Atlas, received the outstanding departmental research award. She is interested broadly in mind-body interactions, the placebo response, and clinical applications of cognitive affective science. When she is not doing science, she is also a musician.  New York University, BA summa cum laude


Division of Intramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
Building 10, Room 4-1741
Bethesda, MD 20892

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This page last modified September 24, 2017