Skip to main content

Kinesiology students tackle questions and build skills through research

Kinesiology faculty Mariane Bacelar putts a golf ball while wearing an EEG hat, master's student Jet Taylor records the data on a laptop
Kinesiology faculty Mariane Bacelar putts a golf ball while wearing an EEG hat, master’s student Jet Taylor records the data on a laptop

Critical questions, like how the benefits of physical activity can be observed at the brain level, are the core of Mariane Bacelar’s Skill Acquisition and Psychophysiology Lab. Bacelar, an assistant professor of kinesiology, helps her students get to the bottom of questions such as:

If you say you want to exercise and don’t, why is that? And what would change the situation for you?

How have you acquired a certain motor skill? Has motivation played a part?

How do rewards of various types shape your behavior?

How do you apply feedback to learn a certain skill? How do you translate that information into action?

Bacelar’s lab was built when Bacelar joined Boise State in the fall of 2022 after completing her doctoral program at Auburn University. She serves as the lab’s director. The lab’s physical space opened this spring.

Joined by six undergraduate students and one graduate student, she investigates questions related to motor skill acquisition and physical activity. They mostly focus on young adults, however, and as a result of a new grant, older adults will be the focus of study in the future.

Because the team examines motor learning and physical activity using neuropsychological measures to uncover the neural mechanisms underlying these phenomena, the lab is housed in Department of Kinesiology. But because human movement – and its hows and whys – is universal, the research and findings are important and applicable to most human endeavors.

Engaging student researchers

Kinesiology master's student Jet Taylor attaches electrodes to an EEG hat
Kinesiology master’s student Jet Taylor attaches electrodes to an EEG hat

Along with groundbreaking research, students who sign up for the lab experience also embark on other meaningful work. They’re learning practical skills and helping to rebuild the credibility of the scientific community at the same time.

The student researchers learn how to apply behavioral and neurophysiological methods, such as electroencephalography (commonly referred to as EEG) to record brain activity and metascience techniques into research. They’re also learning how to collect and analyze data, design experiments, present research findings, think critically and work as part of a research team. Every other week, student teams present on scientific articles with group discussions to follow.

“It has a broader impact,” Bacelar said.

“Some students may not know how important research is. Some people may associate this experience with wanting to become a researcher, but this helps develop a lot of skills. It’s not necessarily ‘for’ research. It’s ‘through’ research.”

–Mariane Bacelar, assistant professor of kinesiology

And while it’s early days for the lab and lab findings, the lab is succeeding in the ways its director has envisioned.

“We’re still collecting data, but we have a couple of predictions,” Bacelar said, adding that it has become apparent that a fundamental premise underpinning these parts of science is still, in fact, an open question.

“We often assume that motivation is associated with learning, but we’re learning that it has not been established,” she said.

Faculty Mariane Bacelar and kinesiology master's student Jet Taylor study shuffleboard movement
Faculty Mariane Bacelar and kinesiology master’s student Jet Taylor study shuffleboard movement

The lab is built on the concept of “open science,” the idea that science should be transparent, accessible and collaborative. Bacelar and many others are hopeful that these principles roll back some of the criticism and skepticism the sciences have faced in recent years, what she describes as a “replication crisis.”

“Our goal is to enhance reliability in our research findings,” she said. “We need to be able to verify our findings, and we need to be transparent, and we need to have rigor.”

Bacelar encourages students from across the university’s disciplines to get involved – but there’s a catch. Because she wants to ensure a quality experience, she’s able to accept only a handful of student researchers. And this year’s lab team will likely be next year’s as well.

“We welcome all types of researchers,” she said. “I think having research experience as an undergrad is valuable. It should be a meaningful experience.”