John Richey

Lab Director

Email: | Curriculum Vitae

John Richey is a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech.

Dr. Richey is primarily interested in Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and social anxiety in the context of autism. The working hypothesis that drives his program of research is that psychopathology is a disorder of the brain, and that the tools of neuroscience can be used to decode the mechanisms of mental disorders. The central objective of this research is to close the gap between basic and clinical science by translating knowledge of mechanistic function into intervention.

It is our firm belief that improving understanding of the underlying causes of mental disorders will provide the necessary foundation for better diagnosis and interventions. This is the mission of our Lab.

Merage Ghane

Clinical Ph.D. Student


Merage is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology. As part of the SCANLab, she is involved in lab projects evaluating the role of positive and negative-valence systems on social approach and decision- making in Social Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorders using fMRI, game-theoretic, and neuroeconomic approaches. In her own research, Merage is interested in how visual sensory and perceptual systems interact with positive and negative-valence systems to guide attention, influence decision-making, and drive learning in healthy and clinical populations. To study the underlying neural and behavioral substrates of these processes, she uses human neuroimaging (e.g. fMRI, task-based and intrinsic fcMRI), univariate and multivariate statistical and computational modeling, and basic psychophysical methods. As part of her future program of research, she aims to translate findings from basic-science research and use computational tools to improve psychiatric assessment, diagnosis and evidence-based treatment. In 2017, Merage received a Pre-Doctoral Intramural Research Training Award from the National Institutes of Mental Health. She is currently conducting her dissertation research as a trainee at the Section on Neurocircuitry at NIMH, under the co-advisorship of Dr. Leslie G. Ungerleider and Dr. Richey. Her project uses a Bayesian Decision-Theoretic approach to understand how simultaneous perceptual and reward uncertainty interact at the neural and behavioral levels to influence decision-making behavior.

At Virginia Tech, Merage investigates the development and function of attention networks both in typical and ASD populations. The goal is to gain a clearer understanding of the organization of these networks in children, adolescents and adults in order to answer the question: how do deficits in attention network function and organization play into the socio-communicative deficits we see in ASD? Additionally, Merage is interested in interdisciplinary research and treatment.

Holly Sullivan-Toole

Translational Biology Medicine & Health Ph.D. Student


Holly is a PhD student in the Translational Biology, Medicine and Health program - Neuroscience track.

Holly is interested in value-based learning and decision making and the neural circuitry that underlies these processes. Prior to grad school, Holly worked as a research assistant in the Learning and Decision Making Lab at Rutgers Newark, where she used fMRI to investigate how reward-processing is affected by various contextual factors such as inequity aversion, effort, and agency. Here in the SCANLAB, Holly is interested in learning new research methodologies and furthering her understanding of how reward-processing is disrupted in disorders such as depression and social anxiety. Specifically, her current work focuses on the relationship between a sense of personal control and the reward-seeking deficits seen in anhedonia.

Marlene Strege

Clinical Ph.D. Student


Marlene is a Ph.D. candidate in the clinical science program at Virginia Tech.

Marlene's research interests include social anxiety and mechanisms of attention. She was last seen writing grants and dumping popcorn on her keyboard.

Ligia Antezana

Clinical Ph.D. Student


Ligia is a Ph.D. candidate in the clinical science program at Virginia Tech.

Her research interests primarily focus on the interplay of executive function disruptions with reward and affective mechanisms in ASD, ADHD, and anxiety. She received her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience from Temple University in 2013. While completing her undergraduate degree, Ligia gained experience with neurodevelopmental disorders and neuroimaging methods through the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at the NIH and the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. After graduating, she became a clinical research assistant at CAR where she worked on a study examining visual attention and cognitive control in children with ASD and ADHD.

Corinne Carlton

Clinical Ph.D. Student


Corinne is a clinical psychology doctoral student at Virginia Tech. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Biology from Florida State University (FSU) in 2017. While completing her undergraduate degree, Corinne gained experience with behavioral neuroscience and psychophysiological methodologies in order to investigate biological correlates of anxiety disorders. After graduating, she became a clinical research assistant at FSU where she worked on various studies examining the efficacy of computerized treatments for anxiety disorders. Her research interests primarily focus on the following themes in Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): 1) understanding affective reward-based mechanisms that influence treatment effectiveness; 2) identifying the biological bases for the etiology and maintenance; and 3) informing evidence- based treatments. While in the SCANLAB, Corinne is interested in learning new research methodologies and to further her understanding of mechanistic influences of the reward circuit in SAD.

Katelyn Garcia

Clinical Ph.D. Student


Katelyn is a clinical psychology doctoral student at Virginia Tech.

Her research interests focus on reward and emotion processing systems in both Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and chronic stress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Heath & Human Services from Wake Forest University in 2016. While completing her undergraduate degree, she studied the effects of positive emotions on stress reduction. After graduating, Katelyn joined the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the NIH where she utilized neuroimaging and neuropsychological methods to explore cognitive and emotional recovery outcomes post traumatic brain injury. While in the SCANLAB, Katelyn is interested in further understanding the neurobiological and environmental risk factors associated with SAD.

Lab Alumni