Inspiring Minds seeks to broaden awareness and impact of graduate student research, while enhancing transferable skills. Students were challenged to describe their research, scholarship or creative activity in 150 or fewer words to share with our community.

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Lighting Up the Brain to Study Social Interactions

In recent years there has been a dramatic shift in the way we interact with other people, largely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Often, this resulted in our interactions moving to the virtual world. But how does speaking to someone online differ from our normal face-to-face conversations? I have been tackling this question using optical neuroimaging, an increasingly popular way of studying naturalistic human brain function. Light is shone into the brain to measure blood flow, giving an indication of brain activity. This technique allows for the simultaneous imaging of two people’s brains as they interact. This means we can look at how brains synchronize, often characterized by similar patterns of activity. Using this set-up, I look at how brains adapt to online social interactions, such as during Zoom calls. Conducting studies like this is a step towards making neuroscience research more naturalistic and less constrained to laboratory environments.

Michaela Kent
PhD candidate, Neuroscience
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry - Western University

Emma G. Duerden
Jody C. Culham

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Michaela Kent is a PhD student in the Neuroscience program, co-supervised by Dr. Emma Duerden and Dr. Jody Culham. Her interest in the developing brain has been a driving factor behind previous work. During her undergraduate degree, Michaela wrote a dissertation on the neurodevelopment of children raised in orphanages. She then completed a Master's degree in Brain Science at the University of Glasgow, working primarily on an fMRI study exploring aspects of social cognition. Building on her neuroimaging background, Michaela is now using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to study the brain in naturalistic settings.

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View Michaela's work as it appears in the Inspiring Minds Digital Collection:

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