Judith Ford, PhD
Dr. Ford’s work is focused on psychosis, specifically auditory verbal hallucinations, a cardinal symptom of schizophrenia associated with high morbidity and mortality. She uses neurophysiological methods to test the hypothesis that auditory hallucinations result from misperceptions of sensations that originate within the ‘self’ that are due to a basic inability topredict these self-generated sensations. If predictive mechanisms are dysfunctional, sensations that should have been predicted, but were not, may be attributed to external sources and thoughts may become audible. These errors of prediction are costly to society and the patient.
Dr. Ford tests this hypothesis by recording neural responses to self-generated sounds from auditory cortex. The role of primary sensory cortex is to encode and transmit sensory “prediction errors” and only process stimuli that deviate from the brain’s representations of expected stimuli. The predictability of sensory events derives from the fact that sensory events are a predictable consequence of one’s own actions or thoughts. This prediction is instantiated via efference copy/corollary discharge forward model systems, studied and described across the animal kingdom.
While Dr. Ford’s earlier work focused on the neurophysiological reflections of these mechanisms during vocalizations, she is now adding paradigms and methods that are more easily translatable to animal models of schizophrenia. She has been collecting EEG and fMRI data while psychiatric patients are pushing a button to deliver a visual or auditory stimulus to themselves. In this way, she is can identify specific elements of circuits involved in predictive coding and relate these to psychotic experiences, while using methods that bench neuroscientists can test on their animal models of psychosis.
Dr. Ford earned her BA in Psychology. Although she earned her PhD in neuroscience from Stanford, her dissertation was guided remotely by Steven A. Hillyard, at UC San Diego. Dr. Ford completed an NIH postdoctoral fellowship through UCSF before returning again to Stanford to become a research associate in psychiatry. She remained at Stanford, joining the faculty first as an associate professor and then as a full professor. In 2004 Dr. Ford joined the psychiatry faculty of Yale University. In 2007, Dr. Ford moved her research laboratory to UCSF, where she co-directs the Brain Imaging and EEG Laboratory with Dr. Daniel Mathalon.
She currently directs the VA Schizophrenia Research Fellowship Program.