Sarah Cavanagh, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology

Associate Director for Grants and Research for the CTE

Degrees Earned

Ph.D., Tufts University; Psychology (Experimental), 2007
Ph.D. Thesis Title: Attentional Deployment as Emotion Regulation: Implications for Dysphoria & Subjective Well-Being
M.S., Tufts University; Experimental Psychology, 2004
B.A., Boston University; Psychology, 1999

Publications & Editorships

Cavanagh, S.R., West Virginia University Press, (2016). The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion

Cavanagh, S.R., & McCready, J. (under review). A novel approach to teaching muscle anatomy in a fully flipped classroom. Anatomical Sciences Education.

Birk, J.L., Cavanagh, S.R., Opitz, P.C., Raskin, M.R., & Urry, H.L. (under revision). Lingering on joy: Slowness to disengage attention from happy faces predicts lower depressive symptoms a year later.

Opitz, P.C., Cavanagh, S.R*., & Urry, H.L. (2015). Uninstructed emotion regulation choice in four studies of cognitive reappraisal. Personality and Individual Differences.

Cavanagh, S.R., & Glode, R.J. (2015). Lost or fond? Effect of nostalgia on recovery from sad mood vary by security of attachment. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 773.

Zhang, F.; Parmley, M.; Wan, X.; & Cavanagh, S.R. (2015). Cultural differences in recognition of subdued facial expressions of emotions. Motivation and Emotion.

Brunye, T.T., Cavanagh, S.R., & Propper, R.E. (2014). Hemispheric bases for emotion and memory. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 997.

Cavanagh, S.R., Fitzgerald, E.J., & Urry, H.L. (2014). Emotion reactivity and regulation are associated with psychological functioning following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan. Emotion, 14(2), 235-240.

Cavanagh, S.R., Urry, H.L., & Shin, L.S. (2011). Mood-induced shifts in attentional bias to emotional information predict ill- and well-being. Emotion, 11(2), 241-248.

Cavanagh, S.R., Shin, L.M., Karamouz, N., Rauch, S.R. (2006). Psychiatric and emotional sequelae of surgical amputation. Psychosomatics, 47, 459-464.

Cavanagh, S.R., Shin, L.M., Rauch, S.R. (2006). Brain imaging in PTSD. Directions in Psychiatry, 26(3), 33-48.

Shin, L.M., Wright, C.I., Cannistraro, P., Wedig, M., McMullin, K., Martis, B., Macklin, M.L., Lasko, N.B., Cavanagh, S., Krangel, T.S., Orr, S.P., Pitman, R.K., Whalen, P.J., Rauch, S.L. (2005). An fMRI study of amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex responses to overtly presented fearful faces in posttraumatic stress disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 273-281.


Cavanagh, S.R., Hickey, R.*, Peck, M.*, & DiLoreto, E.* (2017). Fictional transportation: Associations among reading, interest in emotion, and genre preferences. Poster presentation at the 4th annual meeting of the Society for Affective Science, Boston, MA.

Cavanagh, S.R. & Lang, J.M. (2016, November). Energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion. Research session talk presented at the 41st conference of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, Louisville, KY.

Cavanagh, S.R. (2016, October). Energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion. Science in Society presentation, New England Psychological Association Annual Meeting, Worcester, MA.


Opitz, P.O. & Cavanagh, S.R. (2014). What, when, and how: Contextual influences on emotion regulation choices and success. Co-chaired symposium at the 54th annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Atlanta, GA. 

Cavanagh, S.R., Opitz, P.C., Birk, J.L., Raskin, M., & Urry, H.L. (2015, April). Appraisal in action: Habitual use, task-based implementation, and associations with psychological functioning. Poster presented at the 2nd annual meeting of the Society for Affective Science, Oakland, CA. 

Cavanagh, S.R., Fitzgerald, E.J., & Urry, H.L. (2014, April). Emotion reactivity and regulation are associated with psychological functioning following the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan. Poster presented at the 1st annual meeting of the Society for Affective Science, Bethesda, MD. 

Cavanagh, S.R., Glode, R.J.; & Fitzgerald, E.J. (2013, May). Lost and fond: The effects of nostalgic versus ordinary event memory on recovery from a sad mood induction. Poster presented at the 25th annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, Washington, DC.

Research Projects

My research program hinges on the idea that understanding patterns of emotional reactivity and regulation can illuminate trajectories of risk (for psychopathology) and resilience (indexed by positive life outcomes such as increased well-being). To explore these trajectories, I utilize behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuroimaging methods.

Major Research Projects

Active recruitment:

Enhancing Mindful Awareness and Emotion Regulation in the Classroom: A Research and Dissemination Plan to Improve Learning in Higher Education 

The Center for Teaching Excellence is pleased to announce that professors Sarah Cavanagh and James Lang recently received a generous grant from the Davis Educational Foundation. The grant will allow them to complete a two-phase project involving a research study and a one-day conference for higher education faculty. Both the research project and the conference consider the role of emotions in student engagement and learning. The Davis Educational Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. The Davis Educational Foundation, established as a public charitable foundation in 1985, supports the undergraduate programs of public and private, regionally accredited, baccalaureate degree granting colleges and universities throughout the six New England states.

In preparation:

Cognitive predictors of neural and emotional response to mindfulness-based interventions (co-Principal Investigator). Together with Drs. Carl Fulwiler of University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Psychiatry Department, Philipp Opitz of University of Southern California, Jeffrey Birk of Columbia University, and Heather Urry of Tufts University, I am investigating whether attentional focusing, attentional shifting, and working memory performance can predict response to an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR; indexed by changes in amygdala-orbitofrontal functional connectivity and self-reported changes in emotional functioning). Our broad, long-term objectives are to elucidate the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying response to mindfulness, to identify predictors of who might respond best to mindfulness intervention, and to optimize treatment response for individuals suffering from depression and anxiety disorders such as PTSD. This project was funded by the Assumption College/UMass Collaborative Pilot Research Program (CPRP)

Psychophysiological and neural correlates of risk and resilience in remitted major depression (co-Investigator). With Heather Urry, Philipp Opitz, and Jeffrey Birk, this was a longitudinal study of predictors of relapse and recovery in a sample of participants with and without remitted major depression. This study involves a psychophysiological and behavioral assessment of emotion regulation ability, an fMRI-based assessment of brain function during emotion regulation, and a longitudinal tracking of depressive symptoms over time. This study was funded by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award awarded to Dr. Urry.

My collaborators for these studies are:

Heather L. Urry, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Tufts University

Philipp C. Opitz, Ph.D., Department of Gerontology, University of Southern California

Jeffrey L. Birk, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Columbia University

Carl Fulwiler, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Ryan Glode, B.A., Department of Psychology, Assumption College  

Selected Collections

Faculty Websites

Laboratory for Cognitive & Affective Science

Psychology Today Blog


Personal Website