Vanessa Troiani
Assistant Professor

Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute
120 Hamm Drive
Lewisburg, PA 17837 
Phone: 570-522-9426

Research Interests

Broadly, I am interested in how innate motivation or homeostatic drives change activity in the brain and subsequently alter attention and perception. Within the clinical realm, I would like to understand how altered social motivation is encoded in neural signals and how differences in neural structure and connectivity manifest in atypical social cognition. My graduate work focused on identifying the network of brain regions that function together to select objects with social relevance (like faces). I found that this network was hypoactive in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which may be part of the reason people with ASD don’t pay as much attention to the social world. In another segment of my research, I attempt to dissect the separate components that contribute to guiding our attention towards motivationally relevant stimuli. This segment  of my work examines whether social rewards drive behavior differently than other types of rewards (like food). Do different types of rewards rely on distinct or overlapping regions of the brain? How do individual differences in brain structure influence the type of rewards we seek out and find enjoyable? As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Temple University, I started to examine some of these hypotheses in college students. My work suggests that humans have sub-regions in the part of the brain that processes rewards that are dedicated to processing social rewards. In future work, I hope to explore how these regions develop and whether malfunctioning of these regions contribute to the impaired social cognition trajectory seen in ASD. In addition, I would like to further develop my methods to identify gene-brain-behavior links in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Recent Publications 

  • Troiani V, Price E, & Schultz RT . (2014, Feb). Unseen Fearful Faces Promote Amygdala Guidance of Attention. Social, Cognitive, & Affective Neuroscience , 9(2), 133-140. Full Text
  • Troiani V & Schultz RT . (2013, Jun). Amygdala, Pulvinar, and Inferior Parietal Cortex Contribute to Early Processing of Faces without Awareness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. , 7, 241. Full Text
  • Kohls G, Perino M, Taylor JM, Mavda EN, Cayless SJ, Troiani V, Price E, Faja S, Herrington JD & Schultz RT. (2013, Sep). The nucleus accumbens is involved in both the pursuit of social reward and the avoidance of social punishment. Neuropsychologia , 51(11), 2062-2069. Full Text
  • Chevallier C, Kohls G, Troiani V, Brodkin ES, & Schultz RT . (2012, Apr). The social motivation hypothesis of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 16(4), 231-239. Full Text
  • Kohls G, Chevallier C, Troiani V, & Schultz RT . (2012, Jun). Social 'wanting' dysfunction in autism: neurobiological underpinnings and treatment implications. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders , 4(1),10. Full Text


PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 2008-2013
Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Temple University, 2013-2014

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