Faculty Profile: Dr. Amy Pinkham
Amy PinkhamDr. Amy Pinkham says schizophrenia is an important issue, but it doesn’t get much attention from researchers. She is hoping to change that.

“There’s not much attention or funding for schizophrenia research,” Pinkham said. “Often those with schizophrenia don’t experience the same level of advocacy that we see with other disorders, such as autism.”

People with schizophrenia tend to have pronounced social impairments, which can make it difficult for them to form and maintain relationships, and even have jobs. They have trouble with social cognition, which includes recognizing emotions and social cues, and it can be hard for them to engage in conversation and leave a good impression.

“Those types of things can lead to decreased quality of life,” Pinkham said. “People with schizophrenia have a really hard time functioning as part of society, and my research is focused on trying to figure out why that is. One of the ideas is that if we can improve their social cognition, we might also be able to improve function.”

Pinkham wants to find the areas of the brain that are most impaired and have the strongest influence on function, so that others can then target those in treatment.

A number of designs for measuring social cognition currently exist, making it difficult to compare across studies. Pinkham, with a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is trying to identify the best existing measures of social cognition, making sure they are reliable and valid. Then she will identify a specific set of tests that will be best suited for use in clinical trials and that can be used to measure whether or not a treatment is effective. She also studies the neural basis of social cognitive impairments and has a special interest in how paranoia may impact social functioning, in both those who have schizophrenia and those who do not.

Pinkham earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at Texas A&M University and her graduate degree in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed three years of post-doctoral training in neuroimaging at the University of Pennsylvania in its psychiatry department.

Since joining UT Dallas in 2014, Pinkham has worked on a number of collaborative studies with her husband, Dr. Noah Sasson, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences who studies autism.

“The research environment is so nice at UT Dallas,” Pinkham said. “The infrastructure is all in place, and the Office of Sponsored Projects makes things easy for us.”

In addition to conducting research, Pinkham teaches a research methods course at the graduate level, and abnormal psychology at the undergraduate level.

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