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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Travel Grant Report by Xijing Wang

06.06.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

University College London, UK; Research visit at University of Southern California with Prof Jonathan Gratch

Name: Xijing Wang
Supervisor: Eva Krumhuber
Home Department: Experimental Psychology, University College London
Dates of research trip: Feb 2nd-April 30th.
Host lab: Jonathan Gratch, Institute for Creative Technology, University of Southern California
Project Title: Emotional/Affective Responding in Two Relational Modes

The Aim of This Research Trip

For my PhD dissertation, I focus on how money affects interpersonal relationship. In a prior work (Wang & Krumhuber, 2016), I showed that the love of money leads to the deprivation of mental states, including fundamental emotional experiences and higher-order cognitive abilities. Such mind deprivation due to money further accounted for people’s unethical behaviours towards other targets.

This research visit was to build upon those research findings by examining whether the way people respond to others’ emotions further varied in different relational modes. In particular, previous findings suggest that rather than pure rational agents, people tend to behave in an affective way, being influenced by interaction partner’s displayed emotions. I aimed to further examine whether the degree of affective behaviour would vary as a function of different relational mode (i.e. market pricing vs. communal).

According to Fiske (1992), there are two ways of relating to other people. While the market-pricing mode likely reduces social interactions into measurable metrics by focusing on pay-off maximizations for oneself, the communal mode facilitates behaviours of altruism and kindness (Fiske, 1992). It is thus predicted that the level of affective behaviour would be lower in the monetary mode compared to communal mode.

Outcome of This Research Visit

To this end, I conduced three studies (two on-line studies and one lab study) during my research trip to University of Southern California (USC), with the guidance of my host at USC, professor Jonanthan Gratch, and my supervisor at my home institute, University College London, Dr Eva Krumhuber. Negotiation paradigms from game theory (e.g. Dictator Game and Public Good Good) were adopted to test my hypothesis.

  1. In Study 1, one-shot Dictator Game (DG) was employed to test such hypothesis. The results showed that people were affected by counterplayers’ expressed emotion, even though such emotion was irrelevant to maximizing their personal gain. More importantly, as predicted compared to communal market the degree of this affective responding was lower in the money market.
  2. Study 2 was designed to replicate such finding using a slightly different paradigm (i.e. game type). For this, one-shot Public Good Game (PGG) was adopted. The results are very consistent with Study 1. As such, people behaved in an affective rather than a pure rational manner, given that their behaviour was significantly affected by counterplayers’ displayed emotions. More importantly, such degree of affective behaviour further varied as a function of different relational modes.
  3. Study 3 was to further replicate the finding of Study 2. More importantly, we adopted a physiological measure to capture the tendency for people to mimic and express their own emotions during the negotiation. Instead of adopting the traditional facial electromyography (fEMG), which is rather unnatural and intrusive for the negotiation paradigm I used, video camera was implemented to first record participants’ facial activities. This included their facial muscle/units movements that correspond to different types of emotional expressions. Such data would be later analysed in the newly developed software FACET.

In addition, I received detailed training on implementing psychophysiological measurement, such as electrodermal activity (EDA) and heart rate (HR), in an interactive negotiation paradigm. This included how to collect data, analyse data and write for publication. Such training is of direct use for my upcoming study to further examine the level of affective response in two relational modes in a more implicit way.

This research trip was extremely successful. The conducted studies would be written up for publication in the very near future. In addition, the training received on psychophysiological (ie. EDA and HR) would be implemented for my upcoming studies.

Cultural Experience

In addition to the academic work, I would also like to briefly talk about my cultural experience in Los Angeles. Before going to Los Angeles, I was told that L.A. is a melting pot with ethnical and cultural diversity, since the people who live there come from everywhere in the world. I thought I was mentally well-prepared given that London is ones of the biggest metropolitans worldwide. However, to be honest, I was still quite impressed by the diversity of L.A. Firstly, there seems that there is no such thing as majority population there. Some data regarding this, 47.9% are Hispanic or Latino, 27.5% are Caucasian or White, 13.7% are Asian/Pacific Islander, 8.1% are African-American, and 2.8% are American Indian/Others. This could be the foundation of spirit of the open-mindedness observed in their culture. To give a simple and concrete example, as a Chinese student, I was really amazed by how Chinese or more general Asian food is well accepted there. It is not just by people with an Asian background, but an overwhelmingly majority of residents there. Eating Chinese food is not just for novelty, but more importantly a life routine.

Another thing noticed is that people there work hard and play hard. For example, in general people in service industry work for longer hours. Most of the shops and supermarkets there open till 9 or 10 in the evening. I also learnt that after their regular full-time job, quite some traditional office clerks take part-time work even, working again as a Ulber driver, a waiter/waitress and etc. Such hard-working attitude is not domain-specific, as it is observed in all kinds of occupations, from shop assistants to staff in academia. What then seems to be contrary to their diligence at a superficial level is their casual attitudes. Such laid back West Coast talking style was first noticed during a lab meeting. And such chill attitude prevails everywhere, regardless of position or profession. I was amazed by how people communicate with one another, even with their superiors sometimes.

As a psychology student who study the effect of money on people’s mind and behaviours, the salient gap between the rich and poor in this city is hard to ignore. California is reported to have more billionaires than any other place on earth, with 250,000 millionaires living there. While you just marvelled the beauty of the big houses and exquisite yards belonging to those upper-class, a few blocks away, you can see the life of those homeless people living under the bridge. As pointed out by media, the level of income inequality in Los Angeles is the highest of all the other California cities. While the top-scoring neighbourhoods have unusually high educational achievement and earnings double the US average. In contrast, health, education, and earnings levels of those low-income are even below the average for the United States in 1970. And such gap is expected to be widening in the coming years.

Los Angeles is a dynamic city, a one you may hate and love at the same time. It embodies American dream to a large extent, at least from the first glance. Once again, I sincerely appreciate that EASP sponsored me for this research visit!