ann haynos

Ann Haynos, Ph.D.

Job title: Assistant Professor
Affiliation: Department of Psychology

Haynos' research focus is on identifying and intervening upon the biological and behavioral decision-making mechanisms that promote the development and maintenance of psychological disorders of rigidity, especially anorexia nervosa.

Ann (Annie) Haynos, Ph.D., received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2015. She completed a pre-doctoral internship at Duke University Medical Center and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota through the T32 Midwest Regional Postdoctoral Training Grant in Eating Disorders Research. Afterward, she served as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota from 2017 to 2022.

Her research focus is on identifying and intervening upon the biological and behavioral decision-making mechanisms that promote the development and maintenance of psychological disorders of rigidity, especially anorexia nervosa. Her research has been funded through the National Institute of Mental Health, Klarman Family Foundation for Eating Disorders Research, Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation Awards Program for Eating Disorders Research, and the University of Minnesota. She is also a licensed psychologist specializing in eating, anxiety and personality disorders, and has taught several courses, including Psychology of Gender and Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Q&A with Dr. Haynos

Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?

I grew up in the D.C. metro area (Northern VA and Maryland), but have moved around quite a bit throughout my education and training. I received a B.A. in Psychology (minors in Biology and English) at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where, thanks to dedicated, caring and hands-on mentorship, I fell in love with my discipline and research. During the summers, I had the remarkable opportunity to work as an intern at the National Institutes of Health in labs focused on anxiety and eating disorders. After college, I worked for several years as a research coordinator for a research group at Columbia University studying causes of and treatment for eating disorders, which laid much of the conceptual and methodological groundwork for my current research.

I then pursued my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Nevada, which was considered a hotbed for acceptance and mindfulness-based therapies, a set of therapeutic approaches that I am passionate about weaving into my research. I completed a clinical internship at Duke University, where I conducted intensive therapeutic work with people with eating, anxiety and personality disorders. In general, I found myself working with a variety of patients who were truly exceptional people and extremely hard on themselves. After, I moved to the University of Minnesota, where I completed a federally-funded postdoctoral fellowship in eating disorders research, and transitioned onto faculty through an early-career training grant focused on learning to apply neuroimaging and advanced computational modeling to strengthen my research on psychological disorders of rigidity, such as anorexia nervosa.

When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?

I went to a small, all-female high school that had an alarmingly high rate of eating disorders. By my best estimate, approximately 10% of my graduating class had anorexia nervosa. This is a substantially higher rate than population incidence of this disorder (~1-2%). I felt compelled to better understand how such a devastating illness could impact so many bright, kind and talented people, and I was drawn to do what I could in my career to help people find relief from such serious mental health concerns. Although I entered college intending to pursue a clinical degree and to work primarily as a therapist, I fell in love with the research process during an internship at the National Institutes of Health. I realized that I could potentially make an even broader impact on alleviating psychological problems by conducting research into treatments that could help people escape serious and life-threatening behavior patterns.

Can you explain the focus of your research?

Everyone gets stuck in unhealthy patterns at some point, but often we change our behaviors when the costs become too high. However, people can get stuck repeating harmful actions, even when there are significant negative consequences. In some cases, these actions involve striving for a goal that people initially have been told is positive (e.g., weight loss, fitness, work accomplishment). My lab seeks to understand this phenomenon: excess goal pursuit that leads to destructive health outcomes. My research has primarily focused on restrictive eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, where the pursuit of weight loss becomes all-consuming and life-threatening. I am also interested in how rigid pursuit of other goals (e.g., academic or work goals) can result in physical and mental health concerns.

My research marries neuroscience and clinical psychology, embracing a philosophy that allows mutual feedback between mechanistic questions (asking what gets people stuck in problematic patterns) and intervention questions (asking what tools can we use to get people unstuck). I use many different tools in my research (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging, cognitive brain "games," self-report of behaviors on cell phones) to identify the decision-making factors that promote disorders of excess goal pursuit. In my intervention work, I develop and adapt neuroscience-informed treatments to target the processes that cause people to get stuck narrowly pursuing a goal that causes them harm.

What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?

I am thrilled to join the faculty at VCU! I was drawn to the clinical psychology program at VCU through its reputation as housing strong scientists who are also kind and considerate people. I am excited about what a force the psychology department is within the College, encompassing such a broad variety of psychological disciplines that all have the potential to learn from and teach one another. Additionally, the neuroimaging community at VCU is internationally renowned, allowing me to continue using this powerful tool in my research. Finally, I am inspired to be included in a department and college with such a long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, not just through words, but also through clear actions.

I am already completely charmed by Richmond. I am looking forward to the warm weather (a major upgrade from Minnesota!), good food and craft brews, welcoming people, and nearby hiking, camping and beaches.

Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?

Instruction in psychological science is a high-impact endeavor. According to the U.S. Department of Education, psychology is the fourth most popular major and sixth most popular graduate degree. Psychology courses are also among the most frequently accessed among non-major college students. At the undergraduate level, study of human behavior impacts students’ views of themselves, others and society. At the graduate level, coursework provides the bedrock for influential biomedical research. Thus, I consider training and mentoring others to be strong critical thinkers and high-impact scientists one of the most significant contributions I can make in my career. As such, I have regularly sought opportunities to teach and mentor. As a teacher and mentor, I strive to deliver high quality instruction that is interdisciplinary, engaging and empirical.

As a researcher whose work spans multiple fields (e.g., clinical and health sciences, neuroscience), I believe that the future of psychological inquiry is cross-disciplinary. Thus, I strive to deliver skills and instruction that allow learners to develop into leaders in interdisciplinary science. I have composed my research lab of individuals with varied fields of study and aspirations (e.g., neuroscience, clinical and developmental psychology, medicine) and work closely with colleagues from diverse fields (e.g., neuroscience, psychiatry, physics, engineering, biostatistics, public health). I love watching people with different skill sets and ideologies learn and grow from dialoguing with one another.

Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?

Most of my hobbies are not that quirky! I enjoy distance running, hiking, camping, reading, traveling, eating good food and drinking good beer and wine, and spending time with family.

However, my husband and I have a funny tradition of giving our little ones (two kids and one dog) a ton of very strange nicknames. Each probably has at least 50 nicknames. Here is a sampling: Mister Blister, Scribbly, Double-dove, Minchberg Lemonade, Bearbachino Inneminnepino, Meister Crousto, Scrambled Sausage. I also have a true love for dressing animals in costumes — all the better if I can wear a matching outfit with my pooch!