Multiple colleges and departments across campus have partnered up for a preliminary study that will explore the science of emotions.

The School of Social Work has partnered with College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Engineering and Department of Psychology for a pilot study using electroencephalogram, also known as neurofeedback, to identify brain signals related to emotions. The study is being conducted to better understand human behavior, said Anh Phuong Nguyen, social work doctoral student and graduate research assistant at School of Social Work.

The pilot research project will explore the electrocortical, electrical activity in the cerebral cortex, and cardiovascular activities during anger and happiness stimuli in a sample of 40 male student volunteers.

The study is preliminary, said Anne Nordberg, assistant professor at School of Social Work and research associate for the Center of African American Studies.

“We hope that this will lay the groundwork for followup studies in pursuit of a way to detect and alert people that they are about to become very angry,” Nordberg said. “An early warning system that could be transmitted to a portable or wearable device like a smart phone or like a Fitbit-like device.”

Both Nguyen and Cecilia Mengo, social work doctoral students and graduate research assistants at School of Social Work, have been selected to assist with the study.

Nguyen said that the study could help significantly in understanding human behavior, emotions and, as such, develop substantial recommendations, interventions for research related to the topic, particularly intimate partner violence.

“The interesting thing about this study is to explore the signals from the brain that can notify what emotions are coming up,” Nguyen said in an email. “By knowing this, we can find ways to detect negative emotions and therefore, prevent harmful behavior.”

Mengo said that the study is a huge step for the School of Social Work not only by doing the research but also collaborating with other departments, especially now with the recent recognition for the university as a Carnegie Classification Of Institutions Of Higher Education R-1 designated school for research.

“I think this is a great step for the School of Social Work to be able to participate in such a project and also utilizing some of the strengths from other departments,” Mengo said. 

The pilot data is the beginning of a long-term goal to develop a neuro-feedback training protocol that might regulate the emotions of anger in men charged with domestic violence.

“I believe this project could positively contribute to that goal,” Nordberg said in an email. “It is also a fantastic experience for graduate students to be involved in a research study of this kind – collaborative, innovative and cutting-edge.”


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