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Dr. Matthew Morris

Matthew Morris

Associate Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior 
Office: ND 448 Annex ll
Phone: 601-815-6493


  • B.A., Amherst College, 2002, Psychology
  • Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, 2011, Clinical Psychology
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Meharry Medical College, 2011-2013, Psychobiology

Research interests

  • Racial disparities in acute/chronic pain and quantitative sensory testing
  • Biobehavioral and social mechanisms that influence the transition from acute to chronic pain
  • Psychoneuroendocrine models of risk for trauma-related psychopathology

Current research

Race and Racial Discrimination Influences on Evoked Pain Responses

Race and ethnicity shape the experience of pain in adults, with Non-Hispanic Black adults typically exhibiting greater pain intensity and evoked pain responsiveness than Non-Hispanic White adults. Responses to experimental pain stimuli distinguish certain clinical pain populations from healthy controls, correlate with changes in clinical pain, and could reflect preexisting risk markers for the onset of chronic pain. Our studies were among the first to examine racial differences in temporal summation to second pain and conditioned pain modulation (CPM) in youth. Recent work has also demonstrated the unique impact of lifetime racial/ethnic discrimination on CPM in Non-Hispanic Black adults.

Biobehavioral and social mechanisms that influence the transition from acute to chronic pain

Predicting the development of acute pain among recent trauma survivors and trajectories of pain intensity and interference among chronic pain patients remains a challenge. Recent studies have addressed important knowledge gaps in this area, including the unique contribution of evoked pain responses to pain prediction in youth with functional pain, application of machine learning approaches to predicting pain among survivors of interpersonal violence, relevance of posttraumatic cognitions and posttraumatic stress symptoms to development of acute pain in survivors of recent stalking, and predictors of high emergency department utilization among pediatric patients with sickle cell disease.

Psychoneuroendocrine models of risk for trauma-related psychopathology

Approximately 8 to 18% or trauma-exposed individuals develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 7 to 19% develop major depressive disorder (MDD); as many as half of individuals with PTSD also have comorbid MDD. Examining differences in the way individuals with PTSD with or without MDD respond to stress and comparing them to individuals exposed to trauma who do not develop PTSD may help to identify possible mechanisms underlying vulnerability to these disorders. Our work has demonstrated that enhanced HPA feedback function may be a marker of trauma-exposure rather than a specific mechanism of vulnerability for PTSD, whereas lower daily cortisol output may be associated with PTSD in particular. We have shown that HPA and sympathetic nervous system indicators in the immediate aftermath of trauma are associated with subsequent risk for PTSD in children and adults. Recently, we identified distinct patterns of changes in cortisol reactivity to social-evaluative stressors among interpersonal trauma survivors with and without PTSD. We also used a combination of multilevel modeling and machine learning to evaluate the importance of theory-driven predictors of PTSD.

Current funding

NIMHD U54 MD007586
The RCMI Program in Health Disparities Research at Meharry Medical College
Research Project: Mechanisms Linking Adversity and Pain in African American Adults
Research Project Co-PI: Matthew Morris, Ph.D.
This research project examines two novel mechanistic pathways linking cumulative adversity exposure to daily pain intensity and impairment in African-American adults – altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity and experimental pain sensitivity.
Grant period: 9/21/17 – 6/30/22

Select publications

  • Morris, M.C., Bruehl, S., Stone, A.L., Garber, J., Smith, C., Palermo, T.M., & Walker, L. (2021). Does quantitative sensory testing improve prediction of chronic pain trajectories? A longitudinal study of youth with functional abdominal pain. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 37, 648-656.
  • Morris, M.C., Bailey, B., Hellman, N., Williams, A., Lannon, E.W., Kutcher, M.E., Schumacher, J.A., & Rao, U. (2020). Dynamics and determinants of cortisol and alpha-amylase responses to repeated stressors in recent interpersonal trauma survivors. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 122, doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104899.
  • Morris, M.C., Walker, L., Bruehl, S., Hellman, N., Sherman, A.L., & Rao, U. (2015). Race effects on temporal summation to heat pain in youth. PAIN, 156, 917-922.
  • Morris, M.C., Rao, U., & Garber, J. (2012). Cortisol responses to psychosocial stress predict depression trajectories: Social-Evaluative threat and prior depressive episodes as moderators. Journal of Affective Disorders, 143, 223-230.
  • Morris, M.C., Compass, B.E., & Garber, J. (2012). Relations among posttraumatic stress disorder, comorbid major depression, and HPA-axis functioning: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 301-315.