Research and Creative Activity: Pederson Receives NSF Grant

Sep 18, 2018

From left: Drs. Josh Pederson, Sonya Pritzker and Jason DeCaro

Three University of Alabama professors have been awarded a grant of more than $300,000  from the National Science Foundation to study the relationship between communication and physiological responses in intimate partnerships.

The study is a collaborative work of Drs. Sonya Pritzker and Jason DeCaro, of the department of anthropology, and Dr. Josh Pederson, of the department of communication studies.

DeCaro, Pederson and Pritzker will observe 50 couples by combining nine hours of in-home video observation with moment-to-moment monitoring of activity in the autonomic nervous system as well as multiple, in-depth interviews of the observed couples.

“We think the way romantic partners interact on a daily basis contributes to individual and relational health,” said Pederson, UA assistant professor of communication studies. “This grant allows us to study how these processes happen in real-time outside of laboratory environments.”

The study will use monitoring technology, saliva test kits and video recording to analyze emotion communication and physiological responses of couples.

By examining the links between communication and physiological processes in these intimate partnerships, the study seeks to determine how communicating emotions in everyday life impacts the indicators of psychosocial wellbeing. The study therefore offers a significant public service and has broad implications beyond the realm of academia.

The study,  “Embodying Emotion in Interaction: A Biocultural-Linguistic Study of Communication and Physiology,”  builds upon the team’s Level-2 collaborative project grant awarded by the Research Grant Committee at The University of Alabama in 2017. This research focused on a similar method of physiological measurements and observation of 10 couples.

The study will use monitoring technology, saliva test kits and video recording to analyze emotion communication and physiological responses of couples.

“This project is one of only a few studies in the world to combine linguistic methods from anthropology and communication studies with psychophysiological methods in biocultural medical anthropology,” said Pritzker, UA assistant professor of anthropology. “It is complicated, and a huge part of the pilot research consisted in figuring out how best to do this in a way that will offer the most insight into how the way we speak to one another in specific moments affects the body.”

Pritzker and DeCaro, UA professor of anthropology, in collaboration with Pederson, also recently received a grant of $20,000 from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to hold a workshop, titled, “Embodying Language in the Context of Culture: Developing Bicultural-Linguistic Anthropology through Research on Interaction.”

That workshop will bring together American and European researchers to examine how the human body affects and is affected by everyday communication in the context of culture, and it will be held at The University of Alabama in summer 2019.

The National Science Foundation funds research in most fields of science and engineering through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the United States. NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit