Daniëlle Bouman, MSc

PhD student at VU University Amsterdam
MOVE Research Institute Amsterdam

Research project
Taking approach-avoidance research a step further.

Research themes
Balance, movement and emotion.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific research (NWO): Research talent grant.

Research project description
Balance is a function of physiological, biomechanical and psychological factors. My project focuses specifically on the influence of emotions on this process. Behavioural studies show that emotional situations, such as fear, can trigger - partially hereditary - movement patterns such as `freezing', fight or flight. These movement patterns influence balance directly. By studying changes in movement (balance, standing still, forward step initiation) and neural changes (frontal brain activity and neural activation patterns; EEG) during the viewing of positive and negative emotional pictures, I try to uncover the relationship between emotion and balance.

This relationship is probably disrupted in some psychiatric disorders, such as phobias and autism. People who have a phobia show extreme avoidance behaviour in situations or near objects they are afraid of. This manifests itself in strong postural responses, such as rigidity or recoil. People with autism sometimes show social avoidance behaviour, which may also be related to postural responses. How these fast postural responses are organized in time and space is unclear. This research encompasses multiple experiments and will mostly be done with healthy participants; a final experiment will be done with children with a mild autistic disorder.

Scientific introduction
Emotions are organized based on an appetitive system (priming approach) and an aversive motivational system (priming avoidance). It is unclear how these systems are coupled to the motor system, which is responsible for overt coordinated behavior. I study how full body postural behaviors (e.g., stepping, leaning) are organized in response to emotional triggers and conditions. Using behavioural experiments I will test how postural activities are coupled to affective states. By analyzing biomechanical markers of approach-avoidance behaviour, in conjunction with measures of neural dynamics (EEG), I aim to investigate these connections. The research is inspired by the theory of embodied cognition and emotion.