Travel Grant Report
12.02.2018, by Sibylle Classen in grant report
Visit to the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies
Receiving the EASP travel grant helped me realize a three month research visit to the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies in
Los Angeles, the United States. This visit has allowed me to grow both on a professional as well as on a personal level.
First, visiting professor Jonathan Gratch’s lab enabled me to conduct a study completing the experimental body of my PhD project. In the past few years, I have studied how individuals seek out others to help them regulate their own negative emotions, a phenomenon also termed social sharing. Paradoxically, even though people perceive sharing their emotions with others to be beneficial to them, research suggests that social sharing often does not bring about long-term recovery. Throughout several research lines, I have studied the interpersonal dynamics of social sharing, trying to understand this paradox. Having studied sharers’ support goals, sharers’ ways of trying to achieve these support goals, support providers’ understandings of these goals, and the natural sharing dynamics, one piece was still missing. I wanted to experimentally manipulate the type of support that was provided, to see how this affects sharers’ subsequent sharing behaviors. For example, how do sharers respond when they receive support that they are not seeking? My visit to Gratch’s lab allowed me to study these questions by having participants share their emotions with an avatar. The avatar, Julie, provided participants with either emotional or cognitive support. By having me control Julie in real time, we combined the best of both worlds: socially and emotionally intelligent input, but structured and standardized output.
Setting up and conducting this study has been a very valuable experience. By collaborating with many different people in the Emotions and Cognition Lab, I not only got to meet a lot of people, but also got to observe a different lab structure and learned about the elaborate process of obtaining ethical approval. Furthermore, to conduct my study I recruited 115 participants via Craigslist, and I functioned both as the experimenter as well as the ‘secret’ controller of the avatar. Welcoming people from all kinds of geographical, ethnical and professional backgrounds, with a wide range of ages and personalities definitely broadened my horizon and challenged my own stereotypes. Learning about all their personal and emotional stories while playing Julie the avatar was a very enriching experience as it gave me a glimpse into the minds of all these different people.
Secondly, my visit allowed me to gain new insights into my own project by receiving input from researchers with different expertise than those in my department. During my stay I have presented my work in three different labs. I presented in Gratch’s Emotion & Cognition Lab, consisting of scholars from a broad range of disciplines (e.g., Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, and Computer Science) all studying socio-emotional behaviors. Furthermore, I was invited to give a talk in Carolyn Parkinson’s Computational Social Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, Los Angeles, again consisting of a group of scholars from many different disciplines. Finally, I approached professor Iris Mauss at the University of California Berkeley, who invited me to give a talk in her Emotion and Emotion Regulation Lab. These talks facilitated very interesting discussions, as all of these scholars study related topics using different theories and methodologies, thereby exposing me to new perspectives on my own work. Relatedly, presenting in these different lab groups was a great networking
opportunity. I sincerely hope that this visit may translate into future collaborations beyond the joint project with Gratch’s lab. It has definitely inspired a new dream to do a post doc overseas.
Finally, my stay abroad fostered my personal growth. Even if only for three months, moving to a new place far away from home, not knowing anybody, can be quite unsettling. Overcoming these transition costs, and getting to know a new (gigantic) city, new people and a different culture was an empowering experience and inspired me to seek out future academic experiences abroad. Furthermore, even though the United States and the Netherlands are often subsumed under ‘Western culture’ in many research practices, my stay has taught me a great deal about both – in fact rather different – cultures. For example, even though I highly value the authenticity of the Dutch, which I believe is key to fostering high quality friendships, I have also come to appreciate several aspects of the American culture. Despite my original stereotypes regarding LA’s fakeness, I have come to experience their warm, friendly and inclusive approach to strangers. In California, everyone talks to one another and the default attitude is polite and friendly, something that I have grown to
miss here in Amsterdam. This positivity, and not to forget the sun that is always shining, has definitely brightened up every single day of my stay.
Taken together, my three month research visit has broadened my horizon, both professionally and personally, for which I am truly grateful. Receiving the EASP travel grant thereby contributed to an experience that I will always cherish, and that will hopefully result in more academic adventures yet to come.