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Mykaela Holt received top honours at the 6th Annual Undergraduate Research in Science Conference of Alberta for her honours research that looked at how interpersonal synchrony among children and adults (like matching steps when walking together) might impact empathy and bonding.

Honours student research

June 15, 2020 | Science
Just before Mykaela Holt applied for MacEwan University’s honours psychology program, she happened to take a child development course and learned about a study that examined how making music and matching movements with children (interpersonal synchrony) could impact prosocial behaviours like empathy and bonding.

“That research really stuck with me,” she says. “I wondered how performing the exact same movements at the exact same time – like synchronized swimmers do during their routines – might affect children’s helping behaviours and empathetic responses.”


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MacEwan University is celebrating student research with an ongoing series of stories that look at subjects our students were investigating throughout 2019/20. Many students who were planning to present at the 2020 Student Research Day have submitted their papers, posters and presentations to the university’s research repository, RO@M


Title of work: The influence of interpersonal synchrony on helping behavior, social bonding, and empathy in children 

About the research

With guidance from Dr. Tara Vongpaisal, associate professor of psychology, Mykaela replicated the study by Kirschner & Tomasello (2010) that originally inspired her. Working with educators in Early Learning at MacEwan, she tested the hypothesis that interpersonal synchrony would increase prosocial behaviours.

STORY_IMG_Mykaela_research_20Would children feel more empathetic towards an adult after a period of interpersonal synchrony? Would they help the adult more or feel closer emotionally to the adult when their movements matched?

While Mykaela wasn’t able to illustrate a direct impact of synchrony on social connections and prosocial behaviours, the presentation of her findings at the 6th Annual Undergraduate Research in Science Conference of Alberta in late May was impressive. She walked away from the online conference in first place overall among 59 student presenters from a range of science disciplines who are studying at universities across the province.

“I was nervous, but felt well prepared thanks to my honours supervisor, Dr. Tara Vongpaisal,” says Mykaela. “I was so excited to receive the grand prize that I think I cried a little bit, then my brother and I high-fived.”

While Mykaela won’t be continuing this line of research – she is starting a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Alberta in the fall – she is hopeful someone else might.

“There are so many avenues I would have liked to explore,” she says. “I hope another honours student at MacEwan might be interested in picking up where I left off.” 


Share your work

There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you’re proud of, including MacEwan’s Student Research Day and a range of on-campus or online student conferences and forums.

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