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- ALB, Harvard University
- Hometown: Rockport, Massachusetts
- Field of Study: Personal Health Informatics
- PhD Advisor: Matthew Goodwin
Oliver Wilder-Smith is a PhD student in the Personal Health Informatics program at Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences and Bouvé College of Health Sciences, advised by Professor Matthew Goodwin. His research interests center on leveraging innovative technology for psychological research, with a focus on social-emotional development, co-regulation, bio-behavioral synchrony, and autism spectrum disorders. As an undergraduate working with Professor Rosalind Picard and Professor Matthew Goodwin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Oliver co-developed and patented wearable ambulatory autonomic sensing technology which lead to an MIT spinout company, Affectiva Inc. Oliver spent three years at Affectiva where he oversaw their wearable ambulatory autonomic sensing product line before leaving to pursue his doctoral studies in 2011. In addition to his academic work, Oliver has more than five years of experience working clinically with children with developmental disabilities as an assistant counselor in a therapeutic after school program. Oliver received his ALB (Bachelor of Liberal Arts) from Harvard University, where he majored in psychology and minored in engineering, and is an inventor on over twelve US and international patents.
What are the specifics of your graduate education (thus far)?
As part of an interdisciplinary PhD program, joint between Bouvé and Khoury, I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to pursue coursework that combines psychology, computer science, and advanced statistical modeling.
What are your research interests?
I am working to develop novel computational methods to measure and analyze social interactions, with a particular focus on applying these methods to study children with autism spectrum disorders. My specific interest is in studying bio-behavioral synchrony, the tendency of individuals in relationship to sync up physiological signals, such as heart rate or electrodermal activity. My current research focus is an outgrowth of a long-standing interest in social-emotional development, born out of 5 years experience working clinically with children with developmental disabilities as an assistant counselor in a therapeutic after school program.
What’s one problem you’d like to solve with your research/work?
I believe that reliable, interpretable, and scalable measures of bio-behavioral synchrony in young children could provide a sensitive means of assessing aspects of early social-emotional development. Ultimately, my hope is that the such measures may aid in early diagnosis and intervention for children with social-emotional impairment.
What aspect of what you do is most interesting?
We typically think of our physiology – our heart rate, our breathing – as being relatively independent of those around us, however in many cases this turns out not to be the case. In my research, I frequently find that our physiology is significantly influenced by that of people with whom we interact in a complex bidirectional fashion. In many cases, this leads the physiology of individuals in a relationship to behave more like a coupled system than like two individuals. I believe that this highlights that our brains are wired for social connection, and speaks to the influence of social relationships on body and mind.
What are your research or career goals, going forward?
After completing my degree, I hope to continue my current line of interdisciplinary research and obtain a tenure track faculty position at a research university.