Faculty Profile: Dr. Xiaosi Gu
Dr. Xiaosi GuIt was Dr. Xiaosi Gu’s reading of Sigmund Freud that prompted her interest in psychology. Years later, she would receive dual undergraduate degrees in psychology and economics from Peking University in Beijing. While there, Gu had the unusual opportunity to perform her first functional MRI study to look at complex cognitive processes.

In 2006, Gu attended graduate school at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (now the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) in New York, where she studied emotional and social processing in autistic adults and earned her PhD in neuroscience. “I was interested in a lot of different topics, but observing and systematically studying human behavior was always a common theme,” Gu said.

In her postdoctoral positions, Gu began focusing on a new field called neuroeconomics, which is the interdisciplinary study of economic decision-making. She spent one year at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia, and from there moved to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London in the United Kingdom, which was one of the first centers to develop neuroimaging methods. “I felt very fortunate to be able to work there, with a great group of people,” Gu said.

Last summer, Gu joined the faculty of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for BrainHealth. The general theme of her research is computational psychiatry, or using quantitative methods to characterize mental disorders.

“Unlike many other areas of medicine, mental health is very fuzzy. You can’t just take a test which gives you a definite diagnosis, as you could if you had a heart condition for example,” Gu said. “It has never been and still is not the case for mental health, as the brain is the most complicated organ we have in our bodies.”

Today, psychiatrists talk with their patients and then prescribe medication and dosing on a trial-and-error basis. But Gu said that is not the best strategy.

“It’s not really based on exact knowledge of the disorder because we don’t really know how to objectively assess it. And, to me, that’s the fundamental problem” Gu said. “Using computational, or more quantitative methods, to define mental health problems is a first step toward transformation of this field.”

Gu wants to more efficiently target different parts of the brain and different neurotransmitter systems. Her current research foci are addiction and depression.

Starting next semester, Gu plans to teach an introductory neuroeconomics course for undergraduates and master’s students. It will be the first course of its kind in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Gu is hoping it will draw interdisciplinary interest. The following year, Gu would like to add an additional graduate course, in computational psychiatry.
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