Mary-Frances O'Connor

Mary-Frances O'Connor's picture
Associate Professor, Clinical

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

(520) 621-0217
Psychology 260
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.
Kaplan, D.M., Palitsky, R., Carey, A.L., Crane, T.E., Havens, C.M., Medrano, M.R., Reznik, S.J., Sbarra, D.A., & O’Connor, M.F. (2018). Maladaptive repetitive thought as a transdiagnostic phenomenon and treatment target: An integrative review. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 1126-1136.
Fallon, M., Serrano Careaga, J., Sbarra, D., O’Connor, M-F. (2016). The utility of a virtual Trier Social Stress Test: Initial findings and benchmarking comparisons. Psychosomatic Medicine, 78(7), 835-840. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000338.
Courses Taught: 

I teach PSY 456, Psychology of Death and Loss for undergraduates. I also teach a combined undergraduate/graduate course, PSY 485/585, Psychoneuroimmunology. For graduate students, I teach PSYC 582, Advanced Psychopathology.

Research Program: