Nancy Lee Zucker
Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Our laboratory studies individuals who have difficulty detecting, interpreting, and/or using signals from their body and using this information to guide adaptive behavior.  We explore how disruptions in these capacities contribute to psychosomatic disorders such as functional abdominal pain or anorexia nervosa and how the adaptive development of these capacities helps individuals to know themselves, trust themselves, and flourish.

Our primary populations of study are individuals struggling with eating disorders and feeding disorders of childhood: conditions that are sine quo non for dysregulation of basic motivational drives or conditions in which disruption in these processes may be more likely: such as the presence of pediatric pain. Several conditions are of particular focus due to the presence of profound deficits in interoception or/and integration of internal arousal: anorexia nervosa, a disorder notable for extreme, determined, rigid, and repetitive behaviors promoting malnourishment and the inability to use signals of interoception and proprioception in the service of goal-directed actions, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), children with "sensory superpowers" who may be hypersensitive to somatic signals and external sensory features; and pediatric functional abdominal pain, children who may become afraid of their bodies' messages due to generalization of fear of pain to innocuous sensations. Study of children allows us to ask different questions about disorder etiology, maintenance, and course as we can minimize the impact of malnutrition on brain function and perhaps better characterize prior learning history. What we most passionate about is using this conceptualization to design and test novel treatments that enable individuals across the lifespan to feel safe in their bodies and to achieve this in a way that is fun.

Our parallel line of research examines how individuals’ sense others when they have difficulties sensing themselves. Increasing evidence suggests that we understand others via embodied enactments of our own experiences. These findings have profound implications for individuals who have dysfunction in the experience of their bodies as it suggests limited capacities to truly understand others’ experiences. By studying these processes in parallel, we hope to better understand how this interaction between sensing ourselves and others unfolds.

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