PWIAS Interim Director Kalina Christoff receives $795K grant to research spontaneous thought

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The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), through its Project Grant competition, has announced $795,000 in funding over five years for a research project spearheaded by PWIAS Interim Director Kalina Christoff titled “Investigating the Dynamics of Thought using Brain Connectivity and Experience Sampling.” 

The support from CIHR will enable Christoff (UBC Psychology) and co-investigators Jessica Andrews-Hanna (University of Arizona, Tucson), Mariam Aly (Columbia University), and Caitlin Mills (University of New Hamsphire) to test whether spontaneous thoughts can be separated based on varying levels of deliberate and automatic constraints, and its implications for clinical conditions such as depression.

This project builds on the work Christoff started at the Peter Wall Institute as a Wall Scholar in the 2017-2018 academic year.

“The ideas that were funded through this CIHR grant were originally germinated during my year as a Wall Scholar and in conversations with one of my co-applicants, Caitlin Mills,” explained Christoff. 

“[These ideas] were further developed during an International Research Roundtable on spontaneous thought that was funded and organized through the Peter Wall Institute back in the summer of 2018.”

Building on Christoff’s work as a Wall Scholar and her 2018 International Research Roundtable, this CIHR-funded research project will investigate the neural basis of spontaneous thought and its alterations in healthy controls and participants with subclinical depression. It will also examine the processes that underlie the conversion of subclinical depression into Major Depressive Disorder. 

“This funding will allow us to bridge psychological and theoretical notions of how the mind works with basic neuroscience research, as well as philosophical notions and clinical applications to understand better how spontaneous thought and consciousness arises,” added Christoff. 

Researchers involved in the project say their work has the potential to significantly contribute to improving the health and quality of life of Canadians, and help identify new opportunities for early intervention and prevention for depression. 


2019 CIHR Project Grants have also been awarded to a number of other Wall Scholars including:

Douglas Altshuler (2016 Wall Scholar) Optic flow processing in midbrain-cerebellar circuits for the control of locomotion

William Cheung (2017 Wall Scholar) Developing adaptation strategies for healthy fisheries and food security for First Nations in British Columbia under climate change

Heather McKay (2017 Wall Scholar) How can health benefits of an effective, scaled-up, health promotion model for older adults be sustained? and A group-based social connectedness intervention to support sustained physical activity adherence among older adults.

Lynn Stothers (2017 Wall Scholar)  EXURCISe for improving URinary Continence in people with Spinal cord injury