Lauren Y. Atlas, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain


Building 10, Room 4-1741
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, Maryland 20892


Research Topics

Work in the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain focuses on characterizing the psychological and neural mechanisms by which expectations and other cognitive and affective factors influence pain, emotional experience, and clinical outcomes. The lab's approach is multi-modal: Researchers integrate experimental psychology, neuroimaging, psychophysiology, computational approaches, and other tools to understand how psychological and contextual factors influence subjective experience. Current projects focus on dissociating components of expectancy, relating pain with other types of hedonic affective responses, and understanding various forms of expectancy (e.g. placebo effects versus cue-based predictions). Long-term goals include revealing how specific features of the clinical context and interpersonal aspects influence patient outcomes, as well as determining whether expectancy-based processing is altered in specific patient populations.


Dr. Atlas is Chief of the Section on Affective Neuroscience and Pain, part of NCCIH's new intramural program. 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’ 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. Dr. Atlas joined NCCIH and the NIH in the summer of 2014.

Selected Publications

  1. Atlas LY, Dildine TC, Palacios-Barrios EE, Yu Q, Reynolds RC, Banker LA, Grant SS, Pine DS. Instructions and experiential learning have similar impacts on pain and pain-related brain responses but produce dissociations in value-based reversal learning. Elife. 2022;11.
  2. Amir C, Rose-McCandlish M, Weger R, Dildine TC, Mischkowski D, Necka EA, Lee IS, Wager TD, Pine DS, Atlas LY. Test-Retest Reliability of an Adaptive Thermal Pain Calibration Procedure in Healthy Volunteers. J Pain. 2022;23(9):1543-1555.
  3. Motzkin JC, Hiser J, Carroll I, Wolf R, Baskaya MK, Koenigs M, Atlas LY. Human ventromedial prefrontal cortex lesions enhance the effect of expectations on pain perception. Cortex. 2023;166:188-206.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, December 5, 2023