Psychology Department Welcomes New Assistant Professor, Dr. Lane Beckes

October 22, 2013

By Liz Cachey '15

Though born in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Lane Beckes grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota, where he studied social psychology and interpersonal relationships under the guidance of prominent scholars Dr. Jeff Simpson and Dr. Ellen Berscheid. At the same time, he studied cognitive neuroscience with Dr. Chad Marsolek and learned neuroimaging techniques with Angus MacDonald.

Dr. Beckes went on to do Post-Doctoral work at the University of Virginia; namely, he worked alongside Jim Coan on the affectionately named “Handholding Study.” This study took a sample of people with 15 years of representative data (on things including relationships and deviant behavior) and tested to see to what extent holding another person’s hand would lessen a participant’s level of anticipatory anxiety.

Participants were placed in an MRI machine alone with people of varying levels of emotional closeness – from spouses to strangers; then, they were threatened with the possibility of receiving an electrical shock. Beckes and Coan measured the impact on anxiety levels of having another person’s hand to hold.

The data, based both on self-report from participants and neural imaging from the MRI, showed that participants did indeed benefit from holding another person’s hand. The level of comfort varied depending on levels of closeness with the other person, but the correlation was clear.

“There isn’t just one part of the brain that changes, either – the ENTIRE brain changes,” Beckes said.

Dr. Beckes relates this to the Social Baseline Hypothesis, which suggests that a person’s placement in a social network creates a sort of baseline level of calm and content. Depending upon factors while growing up, like family closeness or friendships, people have varying reference points for this baseline level. Regardless, “the human brain expects us to be with other people,” Beckes said. When this baseline is not met, like when participants were alone in the MRI with the threat of shock in the study, anxiety and threat responses increase significantly.

 “In a concrete, physical way, being with other people fulfills a need we actually have in our brains,” Beckes said.

Dr. Beckes received a grant just before leaving the University of Virginia to study further the role of opioids in the Social Baseline Hypothesis; if opioids are prevented from functioning, will the results of the handholding experiment stay the same?

Here at Bradley, Dr. Beckes is teaching three courses this semester: Principles of Psychology, Brain and Behavior, and an Advanced Special Topics course focused around Social Neuroscience.

“In the classroom, I like to think I have a calm demeanor with an eye toward improvement,” Beckes said.

Dr. Beckes is also looking to start his own EEG lab within the next few weeks. Once the equipment arrives, Dr. Beckes and psychology students will be able to observe the electrical activity of the brain right here on campus in Bradley Hall. 

“I’m excited for the mentoring process with my students,” Beckes said, “in a smaller school like this, it’s a little easier.”

In his free time, Dr. Beckes enjoys playing guitar, “running… very slowly,” and spending time with his two children.

Welcome Dr. Beckes!