Dr. Sylvia Morelli is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Director of the Empathy and Social Connection Lab. She received her BA in Psychology from Princeton University and PhD from UCLA. Prior to joining UIC, Dr. Morelli worked in the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab and explored whether positive empathy (i.e., our ability to share and understand others’ positive emotions) promotes prosocial behavior, social connection, and well-being. She uses a combination of behavioral and neuroimaging techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging, laboratory experiments, daily experience sampling, and social network analyses. Overall, her research aims to broaden our understanding of empathy and demonstrate its critical role in promoting well-being and positive social relationships.    CV  |  E-mail 

Lab Manager


Rucha Makati received her BA in Psychology from the University of South Carolina, Columbia. After graduating, she joined Dr. James Gross's lab (Stanford Psychophysiology Lab) and explored how regulatory focuses and personality traits interact with decision making in daily life. Rucha joined Dr. Jamil Zaki’s Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab and primarily worked with Dr. Sylvia Morelli to explore predictors of empathy, social connectedness and well-being in social networks. Rucha wants to develop better conflict reduction interventions. In addition, she is interested investigating how identity threat, lack of perspective-taking and social network dynamics together contribute to dehumanization. Website |  E-mail


Frank Hu is a cognitive neuroscience researcher conducting studies on emotion, motivation, and cognition. He uses behavioral, neuroimaging (e.g., EEG, fMRI), and computational modeling techniques in his work.  E-mail



Mowafak Allaham received his BS in Computer Science in 2013 and his MA in Psychology from George Mason University in 2015 where he worked with Dr. Eva Wiese as a graduate research assistant at the Social Robotics Lab. Prior to joining the Empathy & Social Connection Lab as a PhD candidate, he worked with Dr. Bertram Malle and Dr. Joseph Austerweil at Brown University as a researcher to explore the cognitive representation of social norms. Currently, Mowafak is on a quest to understand the fabric of empathy. He hopes to develop a computational model to identify the core factors that contribute the most to our empathy for others. His additional research interests include social and moral norms, social cognition, and moral judgments.    CV  |  E-mail

Josh Wondra is a visiting PhD candidate in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan. He received his BA in Psychology and his MS in Social and Quantitative Psychology from Illinois State University. Josh is interested in exploring the psychological processes that underlie emotion and empathy. He uses behavioral and psychophysiological methods and uses videos, podcasts, photographs, news articles, and letters to create emotional experiences in the lab. He is interested in questions such as how people’s perceptions of others’ emotional situations affect their empathy, how personal experience affects empathy, and what psychological processes cause intergroup biases in empathy.   CV  |  E-mail 


Ian Kwok is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Psychology program. His research centers around the ways in which positive emotion and empathy can enhance peoples’ lives. Ian's current line of research involves developing and testing mental health interventions for both clinical and at-risk populations. In particular, he’s interested in exploring how such resources can be disseminated through novel channels — whether it’s in-person or online. Ian's broader goal is to understand how we can live better lives by improving the way we relate to ourselves and others.

Research AssistantS

Summer 2016


Lab Alumni

Samantha Rheins
Yaraly Andersen
Sophia Ou
Taelar Scott