Thomas Armstrong

Ph.D / Assistant Professor of Psychology

Maxey Hall 352
(509) 527-5804

B.A., Psychology, Lewis & Clark College (2005)
M.A., Psychology, Vanderbilt University (2009)
Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, Vanderbilt University (2014)
Clinical Fellow/Psychology Intern, Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital (2014)

Research

I study the interaction between attention and emotion in anxiety-related disorders, such as obsessive compulsive-disorder, blood-injection-injury phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Using eye tracking technology, I study how anxious individuals literally look at the world differently. My research suggests that across disorders, anxious individuals show a tendency to orient their gaze towards threatening stimuli. However, where they look next depends on their diagnosis. Through a series of experiments as well as meta-analysis of the broader literature, I have shown that individuals with PTSD continue monitoring threatening stimuli, whereas individuals with specific phobias avoid further viewing of threatening stimuli. My current research examines the divergent emotion regulation strategies and emotional learning histories that explain these differences in eye movements between anxiety-related disorders. My ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to inform novel, attention-based treatments for anxiety.

Background

I grew up in Southern Oregon and attended Lewis & Clark College, where I majored in psychology and studied emotion in the Behavioral, Health, and Social Psychology Laboratory. While at Lewis & Clark, I also completed advanced coursework in sociology and philosophy. In the spirit of liberal arts education, my senior project integrated philosophical and psychological perspectives on aesthetic pleasure, casting beauty as an emotion. Years later, this project led to my first publication, co-authored with my undergraduate advisor.

After college, I worked as a research coordinator at Cornell University and as a psychiatric rehabilitation counselor in Ithaca, New York. I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD in something, but I had a hard time deciding between the philosophy and sociology of science ("science studies"), experimental psychology, and clinical psychology. Ultimately, I decided that I liked doing science too much to pursue science studies, and I enjoyed clinical work too much to pursue experimental psychology. So I pursued a PhD in clinical psychology at Vanderbilt University, where I found a balance between doing science and treating mental illness.

However, part of me always longed for the interdisciplinary studies of my liberal arts education, and by the end of my PhD, I knew I wanted to return to my roots at a similar institution. I am thrilled to be a faculty member in Psychology at Whitman College, because I can finally "have it all." In the classroom, I can teach psychology from an interdisciplinary perspective; in my laboratory, I can conduct experimental psychopathology research; and in the Walla Walla community, I can practice psychotherapy.