DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Associate Professor of Biology and neurological studies, Nicoladie Tam, was awarded a 2015 UNT Scholarly Works Outstanding Contributor Award because her research article "Computational optimization problems in social interaction and empathetic social emotion" was one of the most viewed items in the UNT Scholarly Works institutional repository last year.
The award "means a lot to me because it means my research topic has had a lot of impact on the general public because it's interesting and my research is well recognized by my peers," Tam said.
The award is sponsored by UNT Libraries and includes a $100 gift card.
The research article that garnered Tam the award focuses on emotions and empathy. It studies how empathy functions in social relationships and the impact it has on decision making. Tam ultimately finds that empathy, which she describes as extending one's self to include others as a part of themselves, creates cooperation and maximizes everyone's gains. Competition, on the other hand, connotes a lack of empathy and allows only the individual to maximize his gains. Tam said her research is similar to studying behavioral economics on a social level.
Tam has taught biology and neuropsychopharmacology, which is the study of how psychiatric drugs affect the mind, at UNT for 23 years. Her previous research has led to the development of a scientific definition of emotions in her emotional theory.
"Emotions are a measure of the discrepancy between what you want and what you get," Tam said. "If you get what you want, you'll be happy; if you don't get what you want, you won't be. The size of the discrepancy between expectation and reality is proportional to the size of the emotion."
Tam said her research has allowed her to understand emotions and the role they play in decision-making. She also said it has led to some developments in the study of animal behavior and emotions.
By studying animal brain waves, she is able to determine whether or not they experience the same sorts of discrepancies in expectations that humans experience. If animals or other creatures don't experience discrepancies, Tam said, their reactions are simply instinct. Whereas, if they do, as is common in mammals, it points to their possession of emotions.
Tam is also currently conducting research focused on creating a wheelchair controlled by brainwaves.