Dr. Samuele Zilioli receives Governor General's Gold Medal

June 01, 2015

Dr. Samuele Zilioli is being recognized with the award of the Governor General's Gold Medal for having achieved the highest academic standing in a PhD program. On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Dr. Zilioli.

Stanley Cups and Olympic medals are nice, but PhD psychology graduand Samuele Zilioli says there is more to winning and losing than shiny objects.

Ironically, Dr. Zilioli has just been awarded a shiny Governor General’s Gold Medal for achieving the highest academic standing in a PhD program. His doctoral thesis, supervised by Dr. Neil Watson, sought to uncover how relationships between environmental factors, hormones and behavior can optimize cognitive and physical health outcomes.

One aspect of his thesis research examined how status rankings associated with success or failure in formal competitions—who gets to do the victory dance and who heads straight for the showers—effect biological changes in competitors.

He found that these biological changes are responsible for shaping long-term behavior, such as whether or not an individual participates in further competitive events.

His work represents the first time some of these processes have been documented in humans, and he says this research could offer insights into how to foster performance excellence in fields that aren’t covered in artificial turf.

“Understanding the balance between hormonal and environmental conditions for optimal cognitive and interpersonal performance can have important practical implications,” says Zilioli. “For example, this knowledge might lead to design-intervention programs that would promote success in the classroom and workplace.”

His groundbreaking research has been published in nine journals, with four more articles currently under review. As well, he has shared his work with the science community via 33 conference presentations and invited addresses.

Now a postdoctoral fellow with Wayne State University’s Close Relationships Lab in Detroit, Dr. Zilioli continues to explore a subject he is clearly passionate about.

He says, “Understanding the biological roots of observable behaviors and studying how psychosocial processes affect human physiology has always been extremely exciting to me.”

by Jackie Amsden

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