Issue 2 – Science Feature 2

Contributed by Dr. Katie Hoemann

 

No fair! How children understand and react to violations of fairness norms

Science spotlight on 2022 Best Dissertation in Affective Science Award winner Dr. Meltem Yucel

 

In the spirit of Northern Hemisphere summer, imagine the following scenario: Two children are playing on the beach, building sandcastles. One finds an extra bucket and shovel, giving her the ability to get more sand at a time and to create a bigger and more elaborate sandcastle. The other child protests: it’s not fair that he does not have extra tools. His sandcastle will be smaller or may take more time to build. It won’t be as fun.

This scenario is innocent enough, but it illustrates children’s sensitivity to (un)fair distributions of resources. It also provides a context for probing how children understand norms about fairness. We know that children care deeply about unfairness. However, we don’t know how they compare it to other types of norm violations. Is having better beach toys a worse offense than pushing someone into the water? Than wearing a swimsuit to school? 2022 Best Dissertation in Affective Science Award winner Dr. Meltem Yucel used scenarios like these to investigate children’s perceptions of fairness norms, how these perceptions change with age, and what role affect plays in their moralization.

Dr. Yucel started from the observation that young children already have a sophisticated understanding of different types of norms. For example, they know it is immoral to hit or push other people, and that moral norm violations like physically harming someone are much more serious offenses than conventional norm violations like dressing inappropriately or playing a game wrong (Smetana et al., 2018; Yucel et al., 2020). They also enforce norm violations to ensure fair treatment of others (Yucel & Vaish, 2018). However, little work has examined the extent to which affect is involved in processing norm violations and how early this begins.

To bridge this gap, Dr. Yucel showed videos of moral and conventional norm violations to 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and undergraduate students while measuring their physiological arousal via pupillometry. She found that even the youngest participants showed greater arousal when witnessing moral as opposed to nonmoral violations. Eye-tracking data also showed that participants of all age groups attended significantly more to the victim of the moral violation than to the person present during the nonmoral violation. This is the first evidence of affective differences that co-occur with, and may contribute to, the behavioral distinction that even young children make between moral and conventional norms (Yucel et al., 2020).

Building on these findings, Dr. Yucel next conducted a series of five studies examining how children and adults perceive fairness violations. Overall, she found a meaningful developmental shift in children’s understanding of fairness. In one study (Yucel et al., 2022), 4-, 6-, and 8-year-old children saw pictures of moral violations (e.g., pushing someone), conventional violations (e.g., wearing inappropriate clothing), fairness violations (e.g., taking more toys), and control actions (e.g., asking permission) and indicated how ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ each action was. The 4-year-olds rated fairness and conventional violations similarly, while the two older groups rated fairness violations to be more serious. Critically, no age group perceived fairness violations to be as serious as moral violations. Dr. Yucel proposes that this is because the impact of unfair distributions is indirect and less perceptible, making them appear relatively harmless to children (see also Ball et al., 2017).

Understanding the development of fairness norms is important because the way we conceptualize unfairness changes how we respond to it. If we see unfairness as a moral norm violation (e.g., physical harm), we are more likely to intervene. If we see it more like a conventional norm violation (e.g., dressing inappropriately), we may still respond negatively but be less concerned about rectifying the imbalance. Consider our two children on the beach. The impact of beach toys on sandcastle size is admittedly trivial, but it is not hard to see how the same inequities unfold on a much larger scale.

Dr. Yucel’s findings carry a powerful message: resource inequality may be widely accepted in many societies because the harm it causes is less obvious than other moral violations. Encouragingly, however, they also sketch a path forward. They suggest that making the damage caused by unfairness explicit can shape the developmental trajectory of fairness norms. This has impacts for caregivers and teachers alike. As scientists, we can help parents be more aware of how they talk about unfairness at home, and we can help teachers socialize fairness concerns through tailored school curricula – in both contexts encouraging children to spontaneously consider the consequences of unfairness and how they can be addressed. Together, we can work to create a world centered on sharing and cooperation.

 

References

Ball, C. L., Smetana, J. G., & Sturge‐Apple, M. L. (2017). Following my head and my heart: Integrating preschoolers’ empathy, theory of mind, and moral judgments. Child Development, 88(2), 597–611. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12605

Smetana, J. G., Ball, C. L., Jambon, M., & Yoo, H. N. (2018). Are young children’s preferences and evaluations of moral and conventional transgressors associated with domain distinctions in judgments? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 173, 284–303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2018.04.008

Yucel, M., Drell, M. B., Jaswal, V. K., & Vaish, A. (2022). Young children do not perceive distributional fairness as a moral norm. Developmental Psychology, 58(6), 1103–1113. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001349

Yucel, M., Hepach, R., & Vaish, A. (2020). Young children and adults show differential arousal to moral and conventional transgressions. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 548. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00548

Yucel, M., & Vaish, A. (2018). Young children tattle to enforce moral norms. Social Development, 27(4), 924–936. https://doi.org/10.1111/sode.12290

Issue 2 – Student Committee Update

SAS Student Committee Update

Thank you to all of the amazing students and trainees who contributed to the great success of student events at the 2022 SAS Conference!

A particular hit was the first student-led salons organized by the SAS Student Committee (SASSC). One salon, moderated by SASSC Secretary Dasha Yermol, was geared towards undergraduate students and sparked a conversation about the graduate school lifestyle. The second salon, moderated by SASSC Chair Angela Smith, focused on postdoctoral opportunities and industry jobs for graduate students.

We also had a stimulating student social event this year! Many students joined us in the Student Lounge for games of skribbl.io, codenames, and bingo. Students interacted one-on-one or in groups with veteran and newbie conferencegoers. This networking opportunity encouraged students to check out each other’s poster sessions and talks!

As we begin to plan student events for the 2023 SAS Conference, the SAS Student Committee welcomed four new positions and eight new SASSC Committee members. We are excited to announce the new 2022-2023 SASSC Team:

Chair: Angela Smith
Vice-Chair: Livia Sacchi
Secretary: Dasha Yermol
Post-Doctoral Member at Large: Julian Scheffer
Graduate Member at Large: Kyle Barrentine
Graduate Member at Large: Eva Liu
Undergraduate Member at Large: Vale Paterson
Undergraduate Member at Large: Paige Freeburg
International Member at Large: Maciej Behnke
International Member at Large: Ola Tkacz

Do you have an idea for a student-led event or salon or want to volunteer with SASSC? If so, we want to hear from you! Email Angela Smith at 

August 2022

Issue 2 – Student Spotlight

by Livia Sacchi 

 

Livia Sacchi is a third-year PhD student in the Psychophysiology and Emotion Regulation Lab (PERL) at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Her research examines the intersection of personality and emotions. She is especially interested in exploring pathways from traits to emotional reactions through appraisal processes, which are cognitive evaluations of environmental contexts. Her studies aim to shed light on individual differences in emotional reactivity. Her work has been published in some of our field’s prominent outlets, including Emotion and BMC Public Health. Apart from her scholarly outputs, she has been awarded “Honourable Mention” in the Poster presentations in 2022 SAS Conference. She has also recently joined the Graduate Editorial Board of Personality and Social Psychology Review.

As this year’s SASSC Vice-President, Livia is excited to work with students and faculty to increase the diversity within the SAS community. She has proposed different initiatives for SAS in the future, such as organising workshops related to biases in affective research and holding a SAS summer school which is tailored to diversity-related topics. Livia and the SAS community are excited to share their ideas with you and they hope to see you at 2023 SAS Conference!

Issue 2 – Cross-Cultural Diversity Salon Reflection

Tackling Cross-Cultural Diversity in SAS

Dr Lameese Eldesouky

 

I am an Arab-American who moved to Egypt three years ago to be a psychology professor. Throughout my graduate studies and postdoc, I exclusively worked with American samples and had no research experience with other cultures. When I got to Egypt, I intended to continue doing affective science research, but with one important change – I would get professional translators to translate my surveys into Arabic. I quickly realized that I had a naïve understanding of how to do research in a new country; I needed to do far more than just survey translation.

My experiences inspired a salon at SAS about research challenges outside of North America. I organized the salon around three challenges:

Challenge 1: A Societal Challenge

The need for cultural adaptation raised the challenge of adjusting to the society’s characteristics. For instance, many Egyptians distrusted authority figures (including researchers) and did not understand the value of science, which made recruitment difficult. Furthermore, many people were not used to talking about their emotions or participating in research more generally, which made them confused and uncomfortable. In addition, several people had low tolerance for long studies and gave unexpected reactions to previously validated stimuli; now I had to figure out how to create or adjust measures that would still have good psychometrics and please reviewers.

Challenge 2: An Institutional Challenge

As anyone who has moved nationally or internationally can attest, there was a challenge in maneuvering around university and governmental rules to avoid getting into trouble. Contrary to my experiences in the U.S., my university IRB viewed monetary incentives as a form of bribery given that a lot of the population was low-income; but then how would I incentivize people to participate in a 14-day experience sampling study? The IRB also preferred I study university students or alumni; but what about having a representative community sample? Even with IRB approval, some research projects required governmental approval; but I was never clear on which projects actually required governmental approval or why. All I knew is that the process took months. Meanwhile, I had to be careful of studying potentially sensitive topics, such as politics or religion, to avoid scaring participants or getting arrested.

Challenge 3: A Publication Challenge

Last but not least, there was a challenge in figuring out how to explain to reviewers why the data were not always perfect; for example, why my compliance rates were lower than usual or why I could not include too many survey items. I also had to constantly watch out for reviewer biases as someone who had a non-Western name, worked at a non-Western institution, and conducted research on a non-Western sample. As an example, I would have to justify having a community Egyptian sample, while I never had to justify having an undergraduate American sample.

Upon reflection, SAS attendees came up with three take-aways. These are actions that members of the society can take to encourage, facilitate, and even celebrate research with diverse populations.

Take-Away 1: Cultural (and Self) Awareness

Researchers should be mindful that every society is a bi-product of its culture, politics, and history. Importantly, these are not just factors that should be used to test questions about cross-cultural replicability; but, they should also be recognized for affecting how one even does research.

Take-Away 2: Openness to Experience

While the U.S. has made vast contributions to affective science, it has also implicitly set certain standards that can be difficult to achieve in other countries. Therefore, researchers should be more open to alternative standards without compromising ethics or scientific rigor.

Take-Away 3: Practice Empathy

All researchers should become more aware of the challenges faced by researchers in non-Western countries, even if they are not doing research on non-Western countries themselves. This increases support for those researchers and helps reduce reviewer biases. In addition, it helps researchers collectively come up with potential solutions to these issues.

While the challenges I discussed focused on Egypt, many SAS attendees across the world, even in other Western countries and the U.S. itself, had similar issues (though in varying forms and degrees). It is my hope that this salon increased awareness of these challenges and will be the beginning of a longer conversation.

 

Lameese Eldesouky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the American University in Cairo who conducts research on emotion regulation and how it affects well-being and social relationships.

Issue 2 – Conference Report

Recap from Stephanie Carpenter and Maria Gendron, 2022 SAS Conference Program Co-chairs
Infographic: Magdalena Rychlowska

 

The SAS 2022 virtual meeting was a great success, featuring 58 regular conference sessions, 2 preconferences, and nearly 700 attendees.

A special shout-out to the awardees of the SAS 2022 Awards! Congratulations!

 

Program highlights included TED-style talks covering broad topics in affective science, invited flash talks highlighting recent scientific innovations, interactive methods events and salons, and professional development events and networking opportunities. 2022 also featured the first SAS Diversity Science Symposium, “Emotion Regulation as a Tool in Coping with Racism and Promoting Healthier Intergroup Relations,” and SAS 2022 President, Dr. Elaine Fox, organized an illuminating symposium on the Affective Science of Mental Health. SAS award winners from the prior conference in 2021 were spotlighted in an inaugural SAS Awards symposium. Beyond the invited programming, SAS 2022 featured 7 poster sessions, 5 Flash Talk sessions, and, for the first time, included symposia in the program. In a joint effort between the SAS student committee and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to promote and celebrate diversity among trainees, 10 exceptional junior scholars were awarded a Trainee Diversity Award. We were also pleased to have participation from attendees across the globe.

All in all, SAS 2022 was a great success. We look forward to seeing you at SAS 2023 in Long Beach, CA, USA taking place March 30-April 1, 2023.

 

 

Issue 2 – Science Feature 1

Contributed by Dr. Katie Hoemann

 

Learning and reversing: How the brain navigates threat in an ever-changing environment

Science spotlight on 2022 Best Dissertation in Affective Science Award winner Dr. Hannah Savage

 

Once, I spent the better part of a year as a professional pet sitter and dog walker. It started out as the perfect job. Until one day when administering medicine to a sick cat resulted in a pretty deep scratch to the arm. I was fine but shaken. I decided to avoid cats for the next while and focus on bonding with dogs. As luck would have it, I was leaving a house one day when a dog chased after and bit me. It left a bruise through my jeans but didn’t break the skin. Still, after a lifetime of happy-go-lucky petting and nuzzling of dogs: I was nervous. I cautiously went back to spending more time with cats.

In the scientific literature, this narrative arc could be described as an episode of threat learning and threat reversal. I formed an association between one stimulus (the cat) and an aversive experience (getting scratched) — an example of threat learning — which I then had to reassess when I continued to have good experiences with cats — an example of threat reversal. This happened at the same time that my love of dogs was challenged by a frightening experience. Thankfully for me, my response suggests I have an ability to respond flexibly to changing sources of threat and safety. Being able to do this well is associated with adaptive emotional functioning and well-being; in fact, inflexibility in this process might be related to the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Yet scientists are still working out exactly how the brain accomplishes this feat and what role subjective and autonomic responses play.

2022 Best Dissertation in Affective Science Award winner Dr. Hannah Savage tackled these questions in a series of fMRI studies using a novel threat-safety reversal task. During an initial baseline phase, participants were presented with a blue and a yellow sphere. During the conditioning (‘learning’) phase, one of these spheres was paired with a burst of white noise. Then, during the reversal phase, the pairing of the sphere color and the white noise was switched. Ratings of valence and anxious arousal were collected at the end of each phase, and skin conductance responses were collected throughout, allowing Dr. Savage to track not only the neural, but also the subjective and autonomic components of learning.

In her first study (Savage et al., 2020a), Dr. Savage found participants’ subjective ratings indicated successful threat and safety reversal learning. In terms of neural responses, threat reversal was associated with activation in regions of the salience network (anterior insular cortex [AIC], rostral dorsal anterior cingulate cortex [dACC]) and safety reversal associated with activation in regions that overlap with the default mode network (DMN; anterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex [vmPFC], posterior midline). In her second study (Savage et al., 2020b), Dr. Savage found that, contrary to expectations, this learning process (and corresponding patterns of neural activation) was not disrupted in people with social anxiety disorder.

In her third study (Savage et al., 2021), Dr. Savage dug deeper, to unpack the brain’s involvement in the subjective and autonomic responses to threat. She found that the brain systems generally thought to represent threat learning (including AIC, dACC, and vmPFC) mostly reflected the subjective experience of being anxiously aroused during this learning process, while threat reversal relied on systems associated with valence processing. In contrast, a different subset of regions was responsible for mediating autonomic (skin conductance) responses.

In other words: how people reported feeling was more strongly and broadly predicted by the neural response to threat than their bodily response. This finding is in line with growing evidence showing that the subjective and physiological components of emotion may not correlate as strongly as has traditionally been assumed (e.g., Siegel et al., 2018). It further suggests that subjective (conscious) experiences may be a better, or more comprehensive, predictor of emotional functioning and well-being than their physiological (unconscious) counterparts – a suggestion with profound implications for understanding and treating mental health problems (Taschereau-Dumouchel et al., 2022).

Ultimately, Dr. Savage’s work shows the strides affective science can make by examining emotional phenomena through multiple lenses. There are a lot more threat- and safety-related contingencies out there than stories conveying the (stretched) truth about cats and dogs. These contingencies have consequences for navigating our everyday, ever-changing environments. But by considering the complex interrelations between brain, body, and mind, we can come to better understand human emotions and their relation to mental health.

 

References

Savage, H. S., Davey, C. G., Fullana, M. A., & Harrison, B. J. (2020a). Clarifying the neural substrates of threat and safety reversal learning in humans. NeuroImage, 207, 116427. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116427

Savage, H. S., Davey, C. G., Fullana, M. A., & Harrison, B. J. (2020b). Threat and safety reversal learning in social anxiety disorder – an fMRI study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 76, 102321. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102321

Savage, H. S., Davey, C. G., Wager, T. D., Garfinkel, S. N., Moffat, B. A., Glarin, R. K., & Harrison, B. J. (2021). Neural mediators of subjective and autonomic responding during threat learning and regulation. NeuroImage, 245, 118643. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118643

Siegel, E. H., Sands, M. K., Van den Noortgate, W., Condon, P., Chang, Y., Dy, J., Quigley, K. S., & Barrett, L. F. (2018). Emotion fingerprints or emotion populations? A meta-analytic investigation of autonomic features of emotion categories. Psychological Bulletin, 144(4), 343–393. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000128

Taschereau-Dumouchel, V., Michel, M., Lau, H., Hofmann, S. G., & LeDoux, J. E. (2022). Putting the “mental” back in “mental disorders”: A perspective from research on fear and anxiety. Molecular Psychiatry, 27(3), 1322–1330. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01395-5