Elizabeth Chrastil

2018 Hellman Fellow


Assistant Professor, Geography
UC Santa Barbara

Project Title: Indvidual differences in navigation ability as an early marker for mental disorders

Project summary: Learning and remembering the locations of resources while avoiding dangerous locations is a major challenge for complex organisms. People afflicted with neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, frequently report disorientation and anxiety when navigating in both new and familiar areas. Spatial navigation demonstrates both behavioral and biological markers for young adults with genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease decades before onset of any disease symptoms. This suggestive finding indicates that the wide individual variability in spatial navigation abilities can be used for early identification of individuals at risk for the development of neurological disorders and could lead to earlier treatment.Project Description:

The goals of Dr. Chrastil’s research project are to i) expand our basic knowledge of individual differences in brain circuits, which can be used for early identification and personalized targeting of treatments, and ii) connect individual differences in spatial ability with domains of human behavior and functioning associated with mental disorders. The wide range of individual abilities in the normal population makes navigation an ideal test bed for the development of biomarkers and measurement of treatment response in individuals. Combining fMRI imaging with the Research Domain Criteria framework from the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Chrastil will investigate navigation ability as a biomarker of mental disorders.

Website: http://geog.ucsb.edu/~chrastil/