American Psychological Foundation

In 2012, with a $2,500 Benton-Meier Neuropsychology Scholarship from APF, graduate student Jenna Renfroe set out to analyze the processes of perception, motor response preparation, and reward anticipation to better understand and characterize the nature of basic emotional processing in patients with Parkinson's disease.

Renfroe examined Parkinson's patients' brain response (electrical activity recorded at the scalp) while they anticipated making a motor response to win or lose a monetary reward. The Parkinson's patients showed reduced evidence of preparation for action compared with healthy older adults. While Parkinson's patients showed evidence of increased arousal or motivation during rewarding or threatening situations, their overall ability to prepare a motor response was reduced.

Renfroe's research highlights the importance of task complexity when studying emotional processes in Parkinson's disease, and suggests that behavioral problems may be related to generally reduced action preparation that is not emotion specific. This suggests that behavioral disturbances in Parkinson's may be less "emotional" and more related to difficulties with preparing a motor response and/or initiation.

Renfroe says the grant fostered her growth as a young researcher. "Receiving this award has added to my professional accomplishments and has helped me to earn respect as a young neuropsychology researcher in training, within the research community, and likely helped in opening the door to other career opportunities."