The Institute for Society, Culture and Environment has awarded Sheryl Ball, associate professor of economics in the College of Science, and Toni Calasanti, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, with senior fellowships.

Ball will delve into the field of neuroscience by taking a neuroscience course at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. She will also receive training in MRI and a statistical program used for analyzing brain data.  The additional scientific training will help her bridge the gap between her home field of economics and neuroscience, in a relatively new field known as neuroeconomics.

“Neuroeconomics – looking at how people’s brains affect the decisions they make – is a really hot area of research at Virginia Tech,” Ball said. “The field didn’t exist when I was in graduate school, and the fellowship has given me the opportunity to develop expertise in something that I would have been interested in if it had existed back then. Now, I’m able to keep up with the latest research techniques that are being used, and I’m thrilled to be learning from such highly recognized experts in the field”

The training will better position Ball to teach a neuroeconomics class during the spring semester — the first undergraduate class of its kind at Virginia Tech.

Calasanti studies the ways in which gender affects a person’s role as a spousal caregiver, specifically in cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia. While she’s previously studied this phenomenon in heterosexual couples, the fellowship will allow her to expand her data collection to non-heterosexual, partner caregivers.

This fall, she will visit researchers and healthcare providers in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to locate partner caregivers willing to be interviewed for data collection.

“I want to understand the extent to which my previous findings concerning gender differences and similarities are transformed in this context,” Calasanti said. 

Calasanti previously found that spousal attitudes towards caregiving were similar among same genders in heterosexual couples.  Both cited similar motivations such as love, the marital bond, duty, and reciprocity.  However, their approaches to caregiving varied. For example, men viewed their caregiving duties — such as bathing and grooming — as tasks, and were more likely to complete the tasks despite spousal refusal or opposition.  Women, on the other hand, took a more empathetic approach, and thus were more likely to find completing caregiving duties stressful when the spouse indicated that he was not willing.

The institute's senior fellowship program is designed to support faculty members who are pursuing an innovative research agenda that has strong potential for significant external funding.

“The Senior Fellows program is in its third year and we are very pleased with the caliber of the Fellows. Having focused time to expand or extend their research agenda has resulted in forward thinking projects and the establishment of new interdisciplinary networks that will serve them well as they pursue funding for their research,” said Karen Roberto, director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, and professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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