Search Close Search
Page Menu

Gregory DiGirolamo, PhD

Gregg DiGirolamo, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab (CNL) at the College of the Holy Cross. How do we control our own behavior? This question generates an obvious response: Each individual determines what he/she is going to do and then does it. But think about the simple case of driving a long distance. When you are backing out of your garage or come upon an accident on the highway, you are aware of the need for control over how much pressure you are putting on the break and how carefully you steer the car in the lane or downshifting to a lower gear. You then consciously exert this control over your own behavior. Contrast that experience to the times in which you’ve driven 10 or 15 miles with no awareness of when you were pressing the gas to increase your speed to go up a hill, breaking when the car in front of you slows down, or even what you’ve been doing for the last 20 minutes. This simple example demonstrates that control over behavior results from two separate mechanisms: one conscious and one unconscious. We have empirically demonstrated these separate mechanisms of control over the last decade (DiGirolamo et al., 2008; DiGirolamo & Posner, 1998). These same mechanisms are present when control over behavior breaks down, and we have been investigating these mechanisms and how they breakdown when both non-clinical people act impulsively, and when people with substance-abuse act impulsively (see Blaukopf & DiGirolamo, 2007 for a review).

Addiction is one domain where the control over impulsive behavior fails. Moreover, failures of control have more lasting and devastating consequences for people with substance abuse particularly opioid-abuse where relapse rates in all users are ~ 70%. My research (in collaboration with Gerardo Gonzalez) has been investigating conscious and unconscious control in people with opiate addiction and we plan to continue this work in people with cocaine (with David Smelson) and nicotine (with David Kalman) addiction. We are interested in understanding both what types of control can be exerted during treatment and in how breakdowns in control lead to relapse. We are also interested in understanding what neural areas are involved in both types of control, what areas are less responsive in people with addiction, and how different medications improve control and activity in the neural areas involved in control.