Senior Design Projects

ECS193 A/B Winter & Spring 2022

Design of a Film-Based Assessment of Empathy in Older Couples

Name Meng Huo
Affiliation UCD

Project's details

Project title Design of a Film-Based Assessment of Empathy in Older Couples
Background Populations aged 65 and older have grown dramatically worldwide, and this growth is expected to continue as the large Baby Boomer cohort ages. Older adults with stronger social ties tend to live longer, healthier and happier, which has highlighted the importance of examining factors underlying individual differences in older adults’ social experiences. The Social relationships, Health, and Altruism Research (SHARE) lab led by Dr. Huo focuses on empathy, the ability to share and understand others’ emotions, which is a central feature of successful social lives and a cornerstone of healthy aging. Our work examines empathy and real-life social experiences in healthy normal older adults, and also older adults with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), who still have relatively preserved empathy and socioemotional skills in early stages despite their mild-to-moderate cognitive impairment. Understanding empathy and social experiences in early stages of AD will advance the literature and inform more effective interventions targeting caregiving dyads coping with this degenerative disease. We have predominantly measured empathy using validated survey questionnaires, which reveals older adults’ subjective perceptions of their empathy but does not necessarily reflect their actual capacities to empathize with others. The goal of this proposal is to build on prior research and design an innovative assessment to objectively assess older adults’ empathy specifically towards their partners, which is arguably more relevant to their dyadic interactions and well-being outcomes. We also consider extant paradigms for older adults with AD to reduce cognitive load involved in the new assessment, so that we will be able to modify this assessment for clinical populations later.
Description Students involved in this project will help design a film-based assessment (a pilot version) that will objectively measure multiple empathy-related processes in both partners of older couples. The assessment will be further polished after this senior design project and implemented in several other funded projects in 2022 and later. This assessment will be first validated in a project with healthy normal older adults that examines the association between empathy in older couples and the way they cope with interpersonal tensions. Then we hope to modify this assessment for older adults with early stage AD and their spousal caregivers for several other projects on social experiences and well-being among older couples coping with early stage AD. The assessment can be run as a webapp or a software program, but data confidentiality should be guaranteed regardless. Importantly, this assessment CANNOT be sold or shared for profits. It will only be used for research purposes (may be shared with collaborators after it is validated and published in peer-reviewed journal articles). We, the SHARE lab, have a specific plan regarding the content of this assessment, and request to own the intellectual property rights of this assessment. We will acknowledge the project team in publications. More details will be provided in the first few group meetings with the SHARE lab members, but please see below a simplified description of the assessment structure: Session 1: Older couples will come to campus for our studies. Two partners will complete the assessment concurrently in two experiment rooms. - Participants will each be videotaped while watching pre-selected film clips, and then answer questions. The camera will need to be turned on automatically once each film clip starts, and turned off once the clip ends. The recording should be saved for a later presentation. Participants’ responses will need to be saved in a dataset for analysis. - Some questions need verbal responses, and those responses need to be recorded for later transcription and coding. - Two partners of a dyad will watch different sets of film clips. Session 2: The two partners will then be asked to switch rooms. - Participants will view the recordings of their partners’ facial expressions (saved in Session 1), and answer questions. - They will then watch the film clips their partners viewed earlier, and then answer questions. Please note that we would like to have the whole assessment be programmed and run automatically. There will be research assistants on standby, but they will only be there for questions participants may have. The project team is responsible for testing/improving this pilot version of the assessment as needed during the senior design project period.
Deliverable This project will contribute a new assessment to the small but burgeoning literature regarding empathy in later life. We will utilize this assessment to better understand the multifaceted nature of empathy in a dyadic context, with findings published in peer-reviewed journal articles and guide future grant applications. A measure documentation will be needed to detail the programming process and prepare for future modifications.
Skill set desirable The ideal project team will have experience with Python cross platform application development with GUI, camera SDK and APIs, and video capturing, compression, and processing. Good communication, collaboration, and documentation skills are needed. Knowledge of or interest in social sciences would be a plus.
Phone number 3109622907
Client time availability 30-60 min every two weeks
IP requirement Client wishes to keep IP of the project
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