Student Spotlight: Saeedeh Sadeghi
April 10, 2023
Saeedeh Sadeghi is a doctoral candidate in human development with a concentration in developmental psychology from Shiraz, Iran. She earned a B.S. in computer engineering from Shiraz University, M.S. in machine intelligence and robotics from the University of Tehran, M.S. in systems engineering from Cornell University, and M.A. in human development from Cornell and now studies how the experience of time and emotion is influenced by the body under the guidance of Eve De Rosa.
What is your area of research and why is it important?
In my research, I try to understand how our experience of time and emotion comes from the body and sensory organs. In one project I worked on how the heart, the organ in our chest that pumps blood, is related to the perception of time. The heart is constantly interacting with the brain, shaping our perceptual experience including the sense of time. In another project, I am working on how our feelings are influenced by the visual waves that our eyes receive—features such as colors, shapes, or composition of the scenes.
What are the larger implications of this research?
I hope that communicating my research to the public might bring more mental clarity and a sense of presence to humans. We tend to identify ourselves with our mind as separate from the environment. In my research, I objectify the mind experience, showing that it partly comes from the body or physical sensations. This could also have practical implications about ways of changing the environment or body to improve psychological well-being. Building on our research, future work may deepen our understanding of mental disorders and their impact on one’s experience of the environment, as well as strategies to support the patients.
You were lead author on a study finding that the perception of time may change with each heartbeat. What do you imagine are the larger implications of the study?
Cognitive neuroscience has widely focused on the brain to explain how the mind works. Our research is suggesting that the body and heart are involved in the feeling of time. We don’t perceive time only with the brain, but the heart is also part of the larger network that gives rise to the sense of time. Our work could provide further insight into how the experience of time might be distorted in patients with disorders related to heart function.
This research has been picked up by additional news sources, including The New York Times. How do you feel knowing your research is making such an impact?
I’m happy that our work sparked curiosity in the public. It’s a shared human need to know about how our mind works and what makes us who we are. I receive emails from non-experts who read a news article about our work, asking questions about the implications of our research or commenting about what it means in their personal experiences. Our experiment was in a very controlled environment with specific stimuli so I don’t know the answer to many questions unless we test them. But what makes me feel happy is public engagement and extending the outreach to non-experts.
How did you get involved with this research and what drew you to it?
The initial thoughts came from a book I read about time perception titled “Felt Time” by Marc Wittmann. Wittmann is one of the proponents of the idea that perception of time is rooted in the body and explains it beautifully in his book based on scientific literature. My mentors at Cornell also had interest and expertise in the relationship between the heart and emotion or perception in general. So we came up with the idea of studying the heart-time relationship. I reached out to Marc Wittmann to get his feedback about our results and he later joined us as a collaborator and co-author of the paper.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?
In the past, I enjoyed creating paintings and bead jewelry. I found joy in the meditative process of expressing my emotions in a creative craft. While I still value these outlets, my current hobbies include hiking, hanging out with friends, and exercising. During grad school, I found relief from emotional stress by taking long hikes in nature. Ithaca is perfect for hiking with its beautiful and vibrant nature!
Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?
I liked crossing disciplinary boundaries in my research and thought that my offer at Cornell would be a great fit. As a Ph.D. student at Cornell, I would be mentored by a committee of three to five faculty members. Having a diverse committee would give me a more comprehensive perspective from different disciplines. My Ph.D. admission offer included guaranteed funding for a teaching assistantship all throughout the program. I saw this as a bonus that would allow more freedom in choosing my research direction, not being limited by a specific research grant. Finally, being close to nature was another factor that made Cornell and Ithaca attractive to me.