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Office of Fellowship Training (OFT)

OFT Mission

The mission of the Office of Fellowship Training is:

  • To support and promote a productive and fulfilling research training experience in the NIMH Intramural Research Program
  • To encourage career planning and guide career management through trainee use of Individual Development Plans (IDPs)
  • To provide programs and services to assist trainees in discovering and clarifying career choices
  • To provide opportunities and to encourage trainees to build a professional skill set which enables them to become world leaders in academic and non-academic careers

Trainee Successes: Past & Present

Harma Meffert, Ph.D.

Harma Meffert, Ph.D.

Dr. Harma Meffert joined Dr. James R. Blair’s team as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2012 (Section on Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience). She earned an M.S. in Cognitive Psychology (University of Groningen) and a Ph.D. in Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (University Medical Center Groningen). During her Ph.D., Dr. Meffert showed that forensic patients with psychopathy display reduced activation in regions previously related to empathy, while observing emotional hand interactions. The data also showed that the empathy deficit might not be as static as previously thought; brain responses normalized with respect to typically developing adults when asked to actively empathize with the interactions. At the NIMH, Dr. Meffert focused on form and function of empathy deficits in youth with disruptive behavior disorders and limited prosocial emotions. Her main aim was to understand how emotional empathy fosters learning from other peoples’ experiences. To this end, Dr. Meffert developed a social referencing task during which participants learn about object valence by observing others’ emotional responses to these objects. This showed that the amygdala processes expression prediction errors during acquisition and is associated with responses to objects after acquisition. Dr. Meffert has been chair of the NIMH Fellows Committee from 2012 to 2015 and a research mentor in the NIMH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research. In 2015, Dr. Meffert became Director of the Social Cognition Research Program at Boys Town National Research Hospital (BTNRH). Boys Town offers services to children such as in-home family services and the Family Home ProgramSM (treatment foster-care program serving +400 youth annually). In 2015, BTNRH established the Center for Neurobehavioral Research, where she was the first PI to join. Here, Dr. Meffert works on further characterizing empathy deficits in disruptive youth with limited prosocial emotions and varying levels of prior trauma. In particular, her goal has been to understand how youth with disruptive behavior respond to others’ distress as a function of prior trauma.

Education

Ph.D. in Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.  University Medical Center Groningen and Forensic Psychiatric Clinic Dr. S. van Mesdag. Thesis: ‘Empathy under arrest?’ Promotores: Dr. Christian Keysers and Dr. Johan A. den Boer. Defense 2012.
M.S. in Cognitive Psychology, University of Groningen, Department of Experimental and Work Psychology. Thesis: ‘Effects of Mental Fatigue on Memory Performance’. Grade: 9 (out of 10). Supervisor: Dr. Monicque M. Lorist. 1999 – 2004.
Propaedeutic exam: Chemical Technology, University of Twente. 1995 – 1998.

NIMH publications

  1. Meffert, H., Brislin, S. J., White, S. F., & Blair, J. R. (2014). Prediction errors to emotional expressions: The roles of the amygdala in social referencing. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
  2. Meffert, H., Blanken, L., Blair, K. S., White, S. F., & Blair, J. R. (2013). The influence of valence and decision difficulty on self-referential processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 46. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00046
  3. Meffert, H., Hwang, S., Nolan, Z. T., Chen, G., & Blair, J. R. (2016). Segregating attention from response control when performing a motor inhibition task: Segregating attention from response control. NeuroImage, 126, 27–38.
  4. Meffert, H., Hwang, S., Nolan, Z. T., Chen, G., & Blair, J. R. (2016). BOLD data representing activation and connectivity for rare no-go versus frequent go cues. Data in Brief. https://doi-org /10.1016/j.dib.2016.02.011
  5. Blair, R. J. R., White, S. F., Meffert, H., & Hwang, S. (2013). Emotional learning and the development of differential moralities: implications from research on psychopathy. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, 1299(1), 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12169 
  6. White, S. F., Brislin, S. J., Meffert, H., Sinclair, S., & Blair, R. J. R. (2013). Callous-unemotional traits modulate the neural response associated with punishing another individual during social exchange: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Personality Disorders, 27(SPL.ISS.1), 99–112.
  7. White, S. F., Clanton, R., Brislin, S. J., Meffert, H., Hwang, S., Sinclair, S., & Blair, R. J. (2014). Reward: empirical contribution. Temporal discounting and conduct disorder in adolescents. Journal of Personality Disorders, 28(1), 5–18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24344883 .
  8. White, S. F., Geraci, M., Lewis, E., Leshin, J., Teng, C., Averbeck, B., Meffert, H.,… Blair, K. S. (2016). Prediction Error Representation in Individuals With Generalized Anxiety Disorder During Passive Avoidance. The American Journal of Psychiatry, appiajp201615111410.