UBC Psychology’s Dr. Zachary Witkower receives the 2022 CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award

Recognizing Canadian doctoral dissertations that make unusually significant and original contributions.

Join us in congratulating UBC Psychology alumnus, Dr. Zachary Witkower, on receiving the 2022 Canadian Association for Graduate Studies Pro-Quest Distinguished Dissertation Award for his dissertation on The action unit imposter: head position influences social perceptions by changing the appearance of the face.

Dr. Zachary Witkower’s dissertation represents a significant breakthrough in understanding how nonverbal behaviour conveys complex social information. Bringing together sixteen mixed-method, multinational, and interdisciplinary studies, his dissertation research demonstrates that head movements influence how people evaluate each other by changing the appearance of the face. By replicating these findings across diverse populations, including in a small-scale indigenous society in Central America, Dr. Witkower shows how head movements are a fundamental, universal, but commonly overlooked element of human communication. Dr. Witkower’s research carries substantial implications for the scientific understanding of emotion expression, nonverbal behaviour, and human evolution.

Dr. Witkower’s research has been published in nineteen peer-reviewed articles in top tier journals in his field, with nine more currently under review. He has delivered nearly two dozen presentations to national and international audiences at conferences and universities, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. While at UBC, he was supervised by Psychology Professor Dr. Jessica Tracy, who is the Director of the UBC Emotion Lab.

“My postdoctoral work is a continuation of my graduate research,” says Witkower. “Although the methods and scope of my research have changed over time, I continue building upon my graduate work by investigating how and why nonverbal behavior is used to communicate social rank, emotion, and personality, around the world and across the lifespan.”

“I have three pieces of advice. First, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Second, don’t make a habit of disagreeing with your data. Third, sometimes it’s important to go down a rabbit hole.”
UBC Psychology Alumus

The CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes Canadian doctoral dissertations that make unusually significant and original contributions, both to their respective academic communities and to Canadian society at large. Dr. Witkower will be officially recognized at the annual CAGS conference in the fall.

“Zak is the most productive, creative, motivated, and ambitious young researcher I have encountered at this stage in his career and I have every expectation that he will become a real star in the field.”
Professor, UBC Psychology and Dr. Witkower's PhD Supervisor