Mary-Frances O'Connor

Mary-Frances O'Connor's picture
Associate Professor, Clinical
Degree(s): 

1992-1996 Bachelor of Arts, Psychology Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1998-2004 Doctoral Degree, Clinical Psychology University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 2003-2004 Clinical Internship Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital University of California, Los Angeles, California 2004-2007 Post-Doctoral Fellowship UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology University of California, Los Angeles, California

Research Interests: 
  • Understanding the individual differences in response to loss, especially the death of a loved one, both psychologically and physiologically
  • Understanding how to improve the lives of those with Complicated Grief in terms of psychotherapy and medical intervention.
  • Identifying the neural correlates of grief, or how the brain comes to understand the irrevocable loss of an attachment figure

My scientific interest is in emotions, in understanding them at the experiential level and the physiological level. My work has primarily focused on a bereaved population, because of the wide-ranging emotional responses to this specific event.  In particular, I am curious about the neurobiological, immune and autonomic parameters that vary between individual grief responses.  Specifically, my techniques have included functional and structural neuroimaging, immune and endocrine analysis of saliva and blood, and psychophysiological assessment of heart rate variability. 

I am continually interested in novel ways to evoke emotion in the laboratory, especially grief, using personalized stimuli, reaction time paradigms, written emotional disclosure and virtual worlds. I believe that a clinical science approach of the experience and physiology of grief can improve psychological treatment.  This is most relevant to Complicated Grief, a disorder following bereavement that is marked by intense, persistent and prolonged symptoms. 

Selected Publications: 

O’Connor, M.-F., Wellisch, D.K., Stanton, A.L., Eisenberger, N.I., Irwin, M.R.,  Lieberman, M.D. (2008).  Craving love? Complicated grief activates brain’s reward center. NeuroImage, 42,  969-972. PMC2553561.

O’Connor, M.-F., Bower, J., Cho, H.J., Creswell, J.D., Hoyt, M.A., Martin, J.L., Robles, T., Sloan, E., Thomas, K.S., Irwin, M.  (2009). To assess, to control, to exclude: effects of biobehavioral factors on circulating inflammatory markers. Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 23, 887-897. PMC2749909.

Shear, M.K., Duan, N., Reynolds, C., Simon, N., Zisook, S., Lebowitz, B., Sung, S., Guesquierre, A., Gorscak, B., Clayton, P., Ito, M., Nakajima, S., Konishi, T., Brent, D., Melhem, N., Meert, K., Schiff, M., Neimeyer, R., O’Connor, M.-F., First, M., Sareen, J., Bolton, J., Skritskaya, N., Mancini, A. (2011). Complicated Grief and related bereavement issues for DSM-5. Depression and Anxiety, 28, 103–117.

Schultze-Florey, C.R., Martínez-Maza, O., Magpantay, L., Breen, E.C., Irwin, M.R., Gündel, H., O’Connor, M.-F. (2012). When grief makes you sick: Bereavement induced systemic inflammation is a question of genotype. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 26, 1066-71. PMC3601554.

O’Connor, M.-F., Arizmendi, B.J., Kaszniak, A.K. (2014). Virtually supportive: A feasibility pilot study of an online support group for dementia caregivers in a 3D virtual environment. Journal of Aging Studies. NIHMSID 593742.

Courses Taught: 

I teach PSY 456, Psychology of Death and Loss and PSY 383, Health Psychology for undergraduates. I also teach a combined undergraduate/graduate course, PSY 485/585, Psychoneuroimmunology, which is offered in Fall of odd years (2013, 2015, etc). For graduate students, I teach PSYC 582, Advanced Psychopathology.

Research Program: