Fellow Feature: Emmanuel Olarewaju

Emmanuel Olarewaju is a PhD IPN student at the Centre of Excellence for Youth Mental Health, Douglas Research Centre. His project, titled Interpersonal language and motor disorganization in psychosis: a neurobehavioural study, falls under Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives' Research Theme 4—Population Neuroscience and Brain Health.

What inspired you to pursue your current degree?

The prevalence of social disconnection in our society inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience and study the link between social engagement and mental health outcomes. Social engagement is a dynamic process involving interdependent communication. At the core of this interdependence are interpersonal connections mediated by shared understanding. My research highlights these interpersonal connections by measuring brains and bodies in simultaneous communication. I intend to identify the synchronization that oscillates between people in various mental states to establish biosocial metrics of interpersonal connectedness. I anticipate that these interpersonal connection metrics can be used for mental health evaluations and subsequent treatment.

What is your area of research and what are the future implications of your project?

I conduct social neuroscience research with the express goal of driving innovative solutions in mental healthcare. To achieve this goal, I’m implementing, to my knowledge, the first research project to employ hyperscanning (i.e., multi-brain imaging), behavioural measures and video analysis to study interpersonal disorganization in patients with schizophrenia. Through rigorous scientific investigation, I intend to develop therapeutics that reduce social isolation, depression, substance abuse and suicide in people with psychosis. Long-term, I plan to seek opportunities to pursue this social neuroscience research and focus its application on therapeutics, artificial intelligence and robotics solutions for social betterment.

What are some challenges that you face as a trainee or in your research? How do you try to overcome them?

In cognitive neuroscience, the longstanding practice of studying humans in isolation has created an enormous chasm in our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of real-time naturalistic social interaction. In other words, those who control the levers of power tend to overlook social neuroscience research despite its immense importance to society. This reality makes acquiring both funding and research collaboration challenging. Despite these challenges, I’m lucky to have partnered with Dr. Lena Palaniyappan—an incredibly supportive supervisor able to step outside the bounds and recognize the urgency of my work in today's world. We try to overcome these challenges through solid empirical research and continuous advocacy.

What do you like best about (your) research?

My research is on the cutting edge of what is known about the mechanisms of human connection. This reality ensures that I’m always learning while motivated by the creativity inherent to novel research. These aspects of my research project keep me intrigued and coming back for more.

What non-science activity or hobby do you most enjoy?

I love playing the guitar and writing music whenever I get the chance. I’m a big fan of staying healthy by going to the gym regularly. I’m also a proud video game and manga nerd.

What accomplishment are you most proud of this year?

This year, I accomplished three major goals of which I’m very proud. Firstly, with assistance from the great team at the Centre of Excellence for Youth Mental Health, I gained approval from the Research Ethics Board to conduct my novel social neuroscience study. Secondly, I submitted my M.Sc. thesis for publication in a renowned journal. Thirdly, I authored a paper on using multi-brain imaging in schizophrenia research to be submitted for peer review in the coming months.

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