John JB Allen
Distinguished Professor
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Cognitive Science - GIDP
Professor, Psychology
Professor, Neuroscience - GIDP
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 621-7448
Work Summary
Depression is a major health problem that is often chronic or recurrent. Existing treatments have limited effectiveness, and are provided wihtout a clear indication that they will match a particular patient's needs. In this era of precision medicine, we strive to develop neurally-informed treatments for depression and related disorders.
Research Interest
Dr. Allen’s research spans several areas, but the main focus is the etiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. His work focuses on identifying risk factors for depression using electroencephalographic and autonomic psychophysiological measures, especially EEG asymmetry, resting state fMRI connectivity, and cardiac vagal control. Based on these findings, he is developing novel and neurally-informed treatments for mood and anxiety disorders, including Transcranial Ultrasound, EEG biofeedback, and Transcranial Direct Current and Transcranial Alternating Current stimulation. Other work includes understanding how emotion and emotional disorders influence the way we make decisions and monitor our actions. Keywords: Depression, Neuromodulation, EEG, Resting-state fMRI


Accortt, E. E., Stewart, J. L., Coan, J. A., Manber, R., & Allen, J. J. (2011). Prefrontal brain asymmetry and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder symptomatology. Journal of Affective Disorders, 128(1-2), 178-183.

PMID: 20833433;PMCID: PMC2994967;Abstract:

Background: Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a dysphoric form of pre-menstrual syndrome, is included as a diagnosis for further study in the DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000). The present study investigated whether a marker of risk for major depressive disorder (MDD), prefrontal brain asymmetry, also characterizes women with PMDD. Methods: In a sample of 25 college women with PMDD symptomatology and 25 matched controls, resting frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was assessed on four occasions within a two-week span. Results: Across several frontal sites women with PMDD had relatively less left than right prefrontal brain activity, consistent with a diathesis-stress model for menstrual-related dysphoria. Conclusions: The findings suggest an overlap in the risk profile for MDD and PMDD. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Sanguinetti, J., Allen, J. J., & Peterson, M. A. (2014). A repetition paradigm with figure-ground stimuli reveals that both semantic and shape representations can be accessed outside of awareness. Psychological Science, 25, 256--264.
Allen, J., Coan, J. A., & Allen, J. J. (2003). Frontal EEG asymmetry and the behavioral activation and inhibition systems. Psychophysiology, 40(1).

Two studies have examined whether there exists a relationship between resting frontal alpha asymmetry and the Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Scales (C. S. Carver & T. L. White, 1994), which are based on Gray's Behavioral Inhibition and Behavioral Activation Systems. Findings suggest that greater relative left frontal activity characterizes individuals higher in self-reported behavioral activation sensitivity (E. Harmon-Jones & J. J. B. Allen, 1997; S. K. Sutton & R. J. Davidson, 1997), and, in one instance, lower behavioral inhibition sensitivity (S. K. Sutton & R. J. Davidson, 1997). In the present study, relatively greater left frontal activity correlated positively with behavioral activation scores. No significant relationship between resting frontal alpha asymmetry and the behavioral inhibition score emerged. These data suggest that relatively greater left frontal activity is indeed an index of approach oriented, appetitive motivational tendencies, whereas the relationship between relative right frontal activity and the behavioral inhibition system is likely to be complex and not accounted for by behavioral withdrawal alone.

Mussel, P., Hewig, J., Allen, J. J., Coles, M. G., & Miltner, W. H. (2014). Smiling Faces Sometimes, they don’t tell the Truth: Facial Expression in the Ultimatum Game Impacts Decision-Making and Event-related Potentials. Psychophysiology, 51, 358-63.
Reid, S. A., Duke, L. M., & Allen, J. J. (1998). Resting frontal electroencephalographic asymmetry in depression: Inconsistencies suggest the need to identify mediating factors. Psychophysiology, 35(4), 389-404.

PMID: 9643053;Abstract:

Two studies of the relationship between depression and resting frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) activity are reported. Although considerable research supports the theory of left and right hemispheric specialization for approach and withdrawal behaviors, only four studies involving clinically depressed individuals have been published to date. Despite methodological similarities with published research, no significant differences in frontal activation emerged between depressed and nondepressed participants with either college students having high Beck Depression Inventory scores (Study 1) or with individuals diagnosed with DSM-III-R depression (Study 2). Post hoc analyses in Study 2 revealed one effect confined to lateral frontal leads during the first 2 min of EEG data; this finding was significant in only one of three reference montages. Results are discussed in light of methodological considerations and mediating variables such as temperament and coping styles.