IUPUC Professor Receives $10,000 EMPOWER Grant from IUPUI

February 22, 2022
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IUPUC Assistant Professor of Psychology, Liz daSilva, Ph.D., was recently awarded an EMPOWER research grant from IUPUI. The Enhanced Mentoring Program with Opportunities for Ways to Excel in Research (EMPOWER) was developed to support IUPUI faculty who are historically underrepresented and/or excluded populations in their discipline or area of scholarship. Co-sponsored by the IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Office of Women, EMPOWER grants are awarded through a rigorous application process and provide up to $10,000 total in support of the mentee’s research and professional development. IUPUC Associate Professor of Psychology, Mark Jaime, Ph.D., will serve the mentor for daSilva’s project. Over the course of the year-long EMPOWER program, daSilva and Jaime will continue developing their research in the Social Neuroscience Lab at IUPUC, which examines perception of emotional movements.

About the Research

In everyday social interactions, movements of the limbs and hands, and changes in body position, are used in conjunction with facial expressions to communicate various emotional states such as joy, anger, sadness, and fear. The research project uses point-light displays—videos that feature moving dots on a black background—which allows for understanding the unique contribution of movement because facial features and other details of the expresser’s identity are not available.

To date, over 150 participants have completed behavioral studies rating point-light movements on the emotional properties they convey, including pleasantness, intensity, and the level of activity. These data are currently being analyzed and daSilva and Jaime are preparing a manuscript on these studies for publication.  Two key findings emerging from the research are that raters can use these emotional properties from movement alone to discriminate between emotion categories, and that intensity and speed are particularly important dimensions for perceiving fearful movements.

Next, daSilva and Jaime plan to develop an electroencephalography (EEG) study to examine neural activity while people view emotional movements. EEG measures electrical activity on the scalp with high temporal accuracy to the level of the millisecond, making it ideal for investigating rapid emotional processing. Funds from the EMPOWER grant will be used for participant incentives and purchasing additional EEG equipment for the Social Neuroscience Lab. Plans are also underway to extend the study to older children and adolescents, to investigate how sensitivity to different properties of emotional movement change across development. The long-term goal of the research is to understand individual differences in movement perception in both typically developing populations, as well as in clinical disorders such as autism.

For more information about the research, or the Social Neuroscience Lab at IUPUC, contact Liz daSilva at elabendy@indiana.edu.