McMaster University

Peter Boris Centre
for Addictions Research

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Dr.Balodis Lab

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Dr. Iris Balodis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. Dr. Balodis’ research focuses on motivational processes influencing maladaptive decision-making.


About The Lab:


Dr. Balodis is a core faculty member of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research (PBCAR), a centre dedicated to addiction research.


Dr. Balodis’ research is focused on understanding how affective processes influence higher order cognitive functions, such as decision-making. Why is there so often a disconnect between our desires and our actions? For example, many people express a genuine desire to lose weight, yet continue to choose to eat calorie-rich foods. In fact, many common societal problems can be attributed to this disconnect: obesity, money mismanagement, and substance abuse all represent cases in which an immediate short-term reward (e.g. a piece of a cake, a 50” flat-screen TV, another beer…) is chosen over a future greater reward (a svelte figure, savings, health). Little is known about how affective processes integrate into core executive functions; this research not only is important for understanding how humans make decisions, but also has significant implications for understanding many psychiatric conditions characterized by poor decision-making. Towards the goal of better understanding these processes, Dr. Balodis’ lab applies functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), psychophysiological, behavioural, and other approaches to various populations demonstrating a range of maladaptive behaviours. These include individuals at risk for addictions, such as young binge drinkers, individuals with gambling disorder, and individuals demonstrating different eating pathologies, such as binge eating disorder.





Research Projects:

1. Gambling (Gambling research and GREO Hub Activities)

2. Disordered Eating Research

3. Alcohol Use Disorder Research

4. Cocaine Dependence Studies

5. Adolescent Studies

Gambling (Gambling research and GREO Hub Activities)

Instructional cues modify performance on the Iowa Gambling Task
Iris M. Balodis, Tara K. MacDonald, Mary C. Olmstead

Does acute alcohol intoxication produce impaired decision making?

Disordered Eating Research
Please enter your content here for Disordered Eating Research
Alcohol Use Disorder Research

Intact Preference Conditioning in Acute Intoxication Despite Deficient Declarative Knowledge and Working Memory
Iris M. Balodis, Ingrid. S. Johnsrude, and Mary C. Olmstead
Does acute alcohol intoxication have any effects on implicit learning?

Cocaine Dependence Studies
Please insert Cocaine Dependence Studies research here
Adolescent Studies

Binge drinking in undergraduates: relationships with sex, drinking behaviors, impulsivity, and the perceived effects of alcohol
Iris M. Balodis, Marc N. Potenza and Mary C. Olmstead

Do binge drinkers exhibit higher trait levels of impulsivity than non-binge drinkers?


Student Opportunities: Dr. Balodis is currently accepting graduate students for the 2017-2018 Fall term.
Future Students:
Students who are interested in joining the PBCAR Lab under my supervision will need to provide the following application requirements:

  1. A short summary of why you would like to join the lab. (150 words)
  2. An up-to-date copy of your transcript.
  3. Your resume or CV.
  4. A writing sample.
  5. Your time availability for the lab. (Hours per week and Starting and End dates)

Email Dr. Balodis at with the application requirements to be considered for a student position.



Fiza Arshad
Fiza Arshad is a Masters of Science Candidate in the graduate program at McMaster University studying Neurobiology and Behaviour. Fiza has also completed her undergraduate degree at University of Toronto Scarborough with her Honours Bachelors of Science, Neuroscience Specialist with a minor in Creative Writing. Fiza is in pursuit of a career in either academia or industry research.
Fiza Arshad's research focuses on the dynamics between stress reactivity and gambling disorder. For this purpose, she uses biomarkers, neurocognitive tasks and questionnaires to determine how stress affects gambling behaviour and related executive function.
As a part of the lab, she also works on additional projects, including secondary data analysis and creating clinical handouts for people with a gambling disorder in partnership with a clinician at Alcohol, Drug & Gambling Services (ADGS).
Student Experience:
"As Thoreau puts it, 'simplify, simplify, simplify'. Learning, the whole graduate school experience, and life in general is a lot more doable and meaningful."


Tasfia Ahsan

Tasfia Ahsan is a Bachelor of Science undergraduate student at McMaster University specializing in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour.  She plans on pursuing psychology by going into counseling or completing a master's program after graduation.
Tasfia's undergraduate thesis examines the effect of two constructs, interoceptive deficits and emotional dysregulation, on treatment outcome in patients with eating disorders. Her primary focus is on patients diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED); however, she is also interested in looking at these constructs in Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN) groups. Tasfia uses questionnaires to conduct a retrospective study with patients at the St. Joseph Eating Disorder Clinic in collaboration with Dr. Michele Laliberte and Dr. Balodis.
Student Experience:
"Everyone is super supportive and provide positive feedback that has helped me facilitate my thesis work."


Carolyn Zeppieri

Carolyn Zeppieri is in her fourth year of her Honours Communication Studies undergraduate degree at McMaster University. Carolyn intends to pursue a career focused on qualitative research. 
Carolyn Zeppieri is completing a communication studies internship under the supervision of Dr. Balodis. Carolyn's primary role is to help Dr. Balodis create an accessible website that disseminates information and resources pertaining to substance and gambling disorders. 
Student Experience:
"Coming from the humanities, I have become intrigued by the science-side of research and how knowledge transfer is crucial for closing gaps between scientific findings and public knowledge."  


Kiran Punia

Kiran Punia is a Bachelor of Science undergraduate student at McMaster University specializing in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour. Kiran is considering a career working with clients or patients. She is also considering furthering school in the McMaster MiNDS program, or a masters in Psychology, or Disability studies and complete a BCBA; to become a board certified Behaviour Analyst.
Kiran is completing her fourth year research project under Dr. Balodis' supervision as well as working with the eating disorder clinic. Kiran's research project seeks to determine if binge eating disorder patients who have any history with self-harm or suicide attempts effects on their treatment outcomes.
Student Experience:
"Researching at PBCAR has been very cool and interesting. It has been a great opportunity to work under Dr. Balodis and the eating disorder clinic. I have also been able to see the clinician perspective and a researcher perspective, which is very challenging, but rewarding and enriching."


Katherine Brooks

Katherine Brooks is completing her third year of her Honours Communication program. Katherine is also completing a minor in Music. After Katherine graduates, she hopes to use the skills she has gain through her academic studies and internship to create a career that combines her passion for communications and music.
Katherine was a Communications Intern at PBCAR working primarily on handouts for clients. These handouts share some of the research findings to help further explain gambling disorders.
Student Experience:
"Working with PBCAR was a rewarding experience that showed me the importance of gambling disorder research and awareness, and the positive impact it can have on clients' lives."


Alexandra Petti

I am a third year undergraduate student at McMaster University currently completing a double major in Multimedia & Communications Studies. While Multimedia & Communications offers a wide range of opportunities, after I graduate I plan to work primarily in the field of graphic design seeing as this is one of my favourite and strongest passions. 
During my internship placement at PBCAR I have been responsible for creating a wide range of images and logos for the various handouts Dr. Balodis and the team have been working on, mainly using Adobe Illustrator.
Student Experience:
"This opportunity has been both a great learning and collaborative experience which I am very thankful for. It has enhanced my knowledge of the graphic design software I used as well as sharpened my ability to adapt in working in a group environment."


Public Knowledge
Substance and gambling disorders affect us, our loved ones, and our peers. Using recent research findings we are working to remove barriers and myths surround substance, eating and gambling disorders. We hope to provide information in an accessible manner to raise public knowledge and awareness.

The information provided here is meant for all members of our community:

  • For individuals with substance use or gambling disorders
  • For the family, friends, and loved ones of people with substance, eating or gambling disorders who want to learn more
  • For employers, peers, and others who are interested in understanding and gaining relevant and credible knowledge on substance eating and gambling disorders

Contact and Questions:

  • A question submission box to answer question that may not be answered on the website (good for feedback and to be able to make improvements to the website)

Information/Requirements about participating
Who can participate?

    • Do you gamble regularly or do you know someone who does? We are interested in people with a variety of gambling experiences.

What is involved?

    • It depends on the study. Most studies involve answering questionnaires and performing tasks on a computer. We also conduct neuroimaging studies, in which you complete tasks while lying in a scanner


    • Your information will not be shared with anyone except with your consent or as required by law. All personal information such as your name, address and phone number will be removed from the data and will be replaced with a number. The data, with identifying information removed will be securely stored in a locked office.


    • You will be reimbursed for your time for participating. The amount of reimbursement depends on the study and the length of time that the study requires.






The Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research (PBCAR) is a Knowledge Hub for the Gambling Research Exchange of Ontario (GREO) with a specialized focus on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying gambling.
A principal goal of the PBCAR is to bridge the gap between scientific research and clinical practice; as a collaborative venture between McMaster University and St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, it is ideally positioned to do so.

Aim: The main aim of the PBCAR GREO Knowledge Hub is to engage numerous stakeholders, including students, residents, clinicians, the greater Hamilton community and the broader general public accessible information on the neurobiology of gambling.

We do this through a variety of activities:

  • Lectures
    • PBCAR members deliver lectures to students, residents and other trainees on the neurobiology of gambling
  • Presentations
    • PBCAR members deliver primers on the neurobiology of gambling to clinicians, individuals with problem gambling, as well as the general public.
  • Reviews
    • PBCAR members are conducting systematic reviews in order to contextualize gambling research findings to the broader addiction research community.
  • Engagement products
  • Training of early-stage investigators
    • Hub members receive training to develop content knowledge and knowledge translation and exchange capacity.
  • Collaborations
    • PBCAR members collaborate with clinicians and community members to provide better access to the research base
      • One current community collaboration is with Alcohol Drug and Gambling Services (ADGS) of Hamilton.
        • "I Love A Good Clinical Handout!" - This project is innovative in bringing together problem gambling researchers and clinicians to highlight relevant research findings. Specifically, this collaboration aims to develop useful clinical handouts for PG counsellors with a focus on neurobiology to use with clients on themes raised by the clients themselves. Five topics have been developed for five handouts:
  • How is problem gambling like substance use disorders to the brain?
  • Why do problem gambling clients experience gambling as impulsive and pleasurable early in their gambling experiences and then compulsive and not pleasurable once the problem is fully formed?
  •  Why does substitution happen (from gambling to substances, gaming or other process addictions)?
  • Why is it hard to say 'no' to an urge?
  • Why is it difficult to find non-gambling activities pleasurable in early recovery (the pleasure scale)?

Current Projects
Dr. Iris Balodis is working in collaboration with Deirdre Querney, a counselor at Alcohol, Drug and Gambling Services of Hamilton to create clinical handouts for clients with up-to-date information on the neurobiology of gambling. Deirdre Querney is a Registered Social Worker and Certified Problem Gambling Counsellor for the City of Hamilton, Public Health Services and Clinical and Preventive Services. This project is supported through the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO).
The goal of this project is to bring together problem gambling (PG) researchers and problem gambling clinicians to develop useful clinical handouts for PG counselors. The focus of the handouts is on recent research findings to use with clients based on themes raised by the clients themselves. The clinical handouts aim to translate neurobiology research in an accessible and educational format for problem gambling clients. 


Alcohol Drug &Gambling Services (ADGS) – 21 Hunter St E. Hamilton, Ontario 905-546-3606
Professional Services offered by ConnexOntario financially supported by the Government of Ontario. Offer community treatment programs and a Drug & Alcohol Helpline for free health services information.
Drug & Alcohol Helpline: 1-800-565-8603
Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario (PGIO) – 33 Russell St. Toronto, Ontario 416-535-8501
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) provides a multilingual problem gambling service that provides support and treatment services to individuals and family members.
                  Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline: 1-888-230-3505
Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO) – 55 Wyndham St N. Suite 214A Guelph, Ontario 519-763-8049
Independent Knowledge Hub Organization that supports evidence-informed decisions making in responsible gambling policies, standards and practices.
Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) – 411 Richmond Street East, Suite 205 Toronto, Ontario 416-499-9800
The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent, non-profit organization committed to problem gambling prevention.
Other Related Support Services
Gamblers Anonymous (GA) Ontario 855-222-5542
Gamblers Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem. There are meetup locations across Ontario (See website to find out the closes meetup to you.)
Ontario Hotline Number: 855-2CALLGA (855-222-5542)
Womankind Addiction Service (WAS) – 431 Whitney Ave. Hamilton, Ontario 905-521-9591
Addiction Treatment Center offers a safe space for women in crisis to be assisted by healthcare professionals supported by St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. 
24/7 Access Number: 905-545-9100
Men's Addiction Service Hamilton (MASH) – 595 Main Street E. Hamilton, Ontario 905-522-1155
Addiction Treatment Center offers a safe space for men in crisis to be assisted by healthcare professionals supported by St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.
                  24/7 Access Number: 905-527-9264
Wayside House of Hamilton – 15 Charlton Ave W. Hamilton, Ontario 905-528-8969
Alcoholism Treatment Program for integrated residential addiction treatment and supportive housing for men.

Understanding Terms and Definitions
Substance Disorders
Gambling Disorders
Binge Eating Disorder
Behaviour and the Brain
Impulse control
Knowledge Transfer: Is the process of sharing reliable information for practical use and to bring about positive change. More about knowledge transfer can be found here:

  • Parallels and differences drawn between various addictions
  • Symptoms and other information regarding various addictions and GDs