Inaugural class of Dintersmith Fellows

Five seniors at William and Mary have a head start on their honors projects, after spending the summer doing funded, faculty-mentored research as participants in the College's first class of Dintersmith Fellows.

The program, made possible by Ted Dintersmith '74, is designed to support undergraduate honors research, especially pre-honors research conducted in the summer before the students' senior year. Joel Schwartz, director of William and Mary's Roy R. Charles Center, explains that the primary goals of the Dintersmith Fellowship Program are to provide undergraduates with the support necessary to do high quality research, and to increase the number of students who participate in the senior honors program.

Currently about 10 percent of each class of William and Mary seniors, about 130 students,  do an honors program—an in-depth investigation on an approved topic, culminating in a written thesis and an oral defense that is administered by a faculty panel.  Most senior honors projects are comparable to graduate school work in terms of scope and rigor.

"Our goal is to attract as many of our strongest students as possible to do honors," he said. "Currently we are funding five students; our goal down the road is to increase this to 20 students."

Dintersmith fellows commit to a 10-week summer research experience. They and their faculty mentors then continue the work begun during the summer throughout the senior year, ending with a senior honors thesis. The Dintersmith Fellows Program provides a modest research stipend for the faculty mentors, as well as providing substantial funding for the students.

"Our senior honors program is built on close student-faculty collaboration and a dedication to integrating the teaching and research missions of the College," Schwarz said. "By providing research funding for both students and their faculty mentors, the Dintersmith Fellows program provides incentives for participation in activity that embodies the essence of our values as an institution." ...

The Effect of Emotion on Human Motion Perception

Dillon Niederhut with Jeanine Stefanucci, assistant professor of psychology

 

A few dots of light on a dark computer screen may look, at first, like nothing more than a constellation. But when those lights are put into motion, the seemingly random conglomeration becomes suddenly recognizable as a human walking, running or even imitating a Michael Jackson dance move. Dillon Niederhut is using how people react to these "point-light displays" to research not only what people perceive but how their emotions and body state might affect that perception.

"We call this the 'embodied' theory of perception, which is part of the embodied theory of the brain," he said. "The embodied theory of the brain basically states that what the mind does depends on how the body feels. This produces interesting consequences in perception."

Niederhut has been exploring those consequences with the help of Jeanine Stefanucci. Perception of distances can vary, based on factors including a person's age or physiological capabilities and the emotional state he or she is in. Niederhut is now looking into how emotional state can similarly affect biological motion.

"What Dillon wants to know is, like everything else in our lab, does the emotion of the observer change their perception of the biological motion in the scene," said Stefanucci.

Niederhut will induce emotion in his participants and then ask them to observe point-light displays. He will then ask them to make some sort of judgment about the motion that is being performed, examining how quickly participants respond and what they might say about the display.

"While distance and motion perception is very basic--even frogs see motion--biological motion processing is a higher order function. So, we have the potential for some interesting findings here," said Niederhut. "If emotion produces any effect at all, we can show empirically that it can change higher order processing."

—Erin Zagursky

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