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Field of research: Movement-emotion and movement-cognition interactions; Effects of movement and sensory-motor interventions on the brain, the body and behavior.

Research goals:

 1) To uncover the neurophysiologic underpinnings and developmental progression of movement-emotion and movement-cognition interactions in health and disease, by designing and conducting thoughtful hypotheses-driven behavioral and brain-imaging studies.

2) To translate this knowledge into clinical use by developing novel, motor-based diagnostic and intervention tools for treatment of various neurological and psychological disorders.

 3) To provide the missing evidence-based research that will support and validate diagnostic and intervention tools used in dance-movement therapy, the Anat Baniel Method: Neuromovement, and other somatic therapies.


In accordance with these goals, I have two lines of research:

  1. Theoretical or “basic” research, describing the behavioral results and uncovering the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying movement-cognition and movement-emotion interaction, in particular emotion recognition from movement and emotion elicitation and regulation through movement (goals 1 & 3 above).

  2. Clinical research, examining 1) Implications of abnormal emotion recognition from bodily emotional expressions in specific populations, and 2) the effects of novel motor interventions on the brain, cognition and emotion (goal 2 above).


Theoretical Research:

Past projects:

Under this line of research I have demonstrated that motor execution, observation and imagery of emotional movements can influence affective state (Shafir et al. 2013), and I have identified which motor characteristics are associated with each of the emotions happiness, sadness, fear and anger: Which motor characteristics enhance each emotion when incorporated in motor behavior (Shafir et al., 2016),  are used to express each emotion (in preparation), and are perceived as expressing that emotion (Melzer et al., 2019). Together with my colleague for this line of research, Rachelle Tsachor, we have also suggested how to use this knowledge in psychotherapy (Shafir 2016; Tsachor and Shafir 2017).

I have also started to develop automatic recognition of these movement characteristics using a Kinect camera (Bernstein et al., 2015 a, b), with the idea to develop it into a future diagnostic tool, based on people’s motor signature as expressed in secondary motor symptoms distinctive to certain disorders (e.g., autism, schizophrenia), as well as using it as a form of biofeedback for emotion regulation purposes.

Current project:

  • A collaborative study with Prof. Robyn Cruze from Lesley University and Rachelle Tsachor from University of Illinois at Chicago, investigating the relationship between personality traits and personal movement patterns as depicted by LBMS (Laban/Bartenieff Movement System) movement components.

  • A collaborative study with Dr. Arik Cheshin from University of Haifa, investigating how incongruency between the emotion expressed in facial expressions and the emotion expressed in bodily expressions affects emotion recognition and behavior during negotiation.



Clinical research:

Past projects:

  • Emotion recognition from whole body emotional expressions in elderly with Alzheimer Disease and its effect on their care giver’s burden: a collaboration with Prof. Perla Werner from University of Haifa (Spitzer et al., 2019).

  • Effects of whole-body vibration stimulation on Depression: a collaboration with Richard Dopp, M.D. from University of Michigan


Future directions:

  • I am involved in a grant proposal which aims to create a huge library of video clips of people expressing emotions through facial and bodily motor expressions to be used in studies of automatic emotion recognition using machine learning and computer vision techniques.

  • Investigating underlying brain mechanisms for the effects of the  Anat Baniel Method: Neuromovement

  • Investigating the effects of different motor interventions such as the Anat Baniel Method: Neuromovement and the Quadrato Motor Training” on different populations.

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