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Pietra Bruni

Graduate Student
Research Area: Clinical Science

social-emotional expertise; interoception; emotional granularity; social and cultural factors

I am a graduate student in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, specializing in Clinical Science. I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 with a Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology and Film Studies, and with a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. The majority of my undergraduate research was conducted at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and focused on understanding changes in the brain associated with aging, as well as computational modeling approaches to understand cognitive control and their disturbances in serious mental illness and early psychosis.

After graduation, I worked as a research specialist in the Affect Analysis Group under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Cohn. My post-baccalaureate work (from 2015-2017) investigated numerous topics in the affective science realm, including the behavioral reactivity of individuals with PTSD, the effects of alcohol on emotion/ social bonding, and how infants respond affectively to a change in social interaction with their mother. I am certified in the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) by the Paul Ekman Group.

I joined the Department of Psychological Sciences at Vanderbilt University in 2017 as a Clinical Psychology PhD student, under the direction of Dr. Jo-Anne Bachorowski. My doctoral work has focused on the analysis of non-verbal and interpersonal behavior, and the influence emotion regulation techniques have on facilitating and maintaining meaningful social relationships. I recently completed a project examining the relationship between interoception (the sense of the physiological condition of the body), social-emotional expertise (SEE), and emotional granularity. My current research interests include further development of social-emotional expertise (SEE), a construct that represents a collection of cognitive and affect-related abilities related to social interaction, and emphasizes the timing and synchrony of behaviors that contribute to overall social ability. Specifically, I am interested in the cognitive mechanisms of SEE and testing the social working memory of those who vary in their social-emotional expertise.

Representative Publications

Peer Reviewed Publications --

Bruni, P.T. (2020). Listen to Your Gut: Why the Gut-Brain Connection Matters and How it Can Improve Your Life. APS Observer, 33(6), 47-48.

Conference Poster Presentations --

Bruni, P.T. & Bachorowski, J.A. (April 23-25, 2020). How Do We Describe Our Feelings? The Role of Emotional Granularity in Social-Emotional Expertise. Poster accepted for presentation at The Society for Affect Science Annual Conference, San Francisco, California.

Hooper, M.A., Bruni, P.T., Wild, M.G., Tomarken, A.J., & Bachorowski, J.A. (April 23-25, 2020). Gender Bias in the Social-Emotional Expertise Scale: A Differential Item Functioning Analysis. Poster accepted for presentation at the 32nd APS Annual Convention, Chicago, IL.

Bruni, P.T. & Schlundt, D.G. (October 10, 2019). Effect of an Online ‘Toolkit’ Module to Implement & Assess Learning Goals in Health Psychology. Poster presented at the Gerald S. Gotterer Health Professions Education Research Day, Nashville, TN.

Bruni, P.T. & Bachorowski, J.A. (July 9-13, 2019). Social-Emotional Expertise: Interoceptive Awareness & Person Perception. Poster presented at the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE) Conference, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Hooper, M.A., Bruni, P.T., Wild, M.G. & Bachorowski, J.A. (July 9-13, 2019). Item Response Theory Analysis of the Social-Emotional Expertise Scale. Poster presented at the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE) Conference, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Compton, S., Bruni, P.T. & Bachorowski, J.F. (April 20, 2019). Gender Differences in Social-Emotional Expertise & Interpersonal Perception. Poster presented at the Middle Tennessee Psychological Association Annual Meeting, Nashville, TN.

Wulf, T.M., Girard, J.M., Bruni, P.T. & Cohn, J.F. (November 9-11, 2017). Nonverbal indicators of acute distress in women with PTSD. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Chicago, IL.

Bruni, P.T., Girard, J., Wulf, T., Cohn, J. & Benight, C. (April 17-18, 2017). Analysis of Traumatic Stress and Depression Self-Report Measures in a Civilian Population Sample. Poster presented at the 12th Annual Amygdala, Stress and PTSD Conference: Understanding Stress, Bethesda, MD.


Tennessee Psychological Foundation (TPF) Funded Membership Award & Fellowship, 2020

Future City Pittsburgh Distinguished Alumna Award – DiscoverE Coalition, 2020

Lisa M. Quesenberry Scholarship – Community Foundation of Louisville, 2019

Russell G. Hamilton Graduate Leadership Development Institute Travel Grant – Vanderbilt University, 2019

Gayle Fambrough Fellowship Award, Department of Psychology – Vanderbilt University, 2019

Phi Beta Kappa Society, Xi chapter of Pennsylvania, 2015

Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) Voucher

Grant: June, 2018: $1,939.00

Role: Principal Investigator

The Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Consortium (ACC AC) Fellows Program in Creativity and Innovation

Grant: August, 2015; $4,583.20

Role: Principal Investigator