The Summer 2016 cycle of small research grantees are studying a wide range of personality effects and social behaviors. Their projects investigate the effects of emodiversity on empathy, how people make online dating decisions, meta-perceptions of the police, the impact of microaggressions on health disparities, how connection with physical spaces influences well-being, the relationship between social power and cognitive efficiency, and whether implicit biases affect online dating preferences. We asked each of the grantees about their research, which aspects of their projects have surprised them most, and more.
Elaine summarizes her research project as, “examining whether the capacity to maintain a rich and diverse emotional life, termed emodiversity, may serve to protect against empathy decline when confronted with stress. We seek to explore whether emodiversity might serve to protect the capacity for empathy under stress, by allowing individuals to experience and empathize with others’ emotions, even as they experience stress.”
Elaine and her team are using the grant money to pay participants, some of whom have been recruited from the general population using Amazon’s MTurk, and some of whom are medical trainees (students and residents). So far, the data from two studies conducted using Amazon’s MTurk supports the idea that emodiversity, especially negative emodiversity (the diversity and relative abundance of negative emotions an individual experiences in day-to-day life) may protect against empathy decline in times of stress. Individuals low in negative emodiversity showed reduced empathy under stress, while those high in negative emodiversity demonstrated high levels of empathy, irrespective of stress.
Elaine was surprised by the finding that negative emodiversity seemed to drive the effects on empathy, and positive emodiversity did not appear to provide a buffer against empathy decline in stressful situations. One possible explanation for this could be that the project’s measures of empathy focused more on the ability to empathize with other individuals’ negative emotions.
Sarah says of her research, “The project is investigating how people choose romantic partners in an online dating context. We are using eye-tracking technology to measure participants' visual attention to different aspects of potential partners' online dating profiles. Using this technique, the project will tell us which aspects of online dating profiles inform individuals' decisions to date different partners, and whether these correspond to the information participants self-report using to make their decisions. We will also be able to investigate whether men and women pay attention to different aspects of dating profiles.”
Sarah is using the grant money to pay participants, which has allowed the project to recruit beyond a student sample to a more diverse group of participants. As a result, they can draw broader conclusions about online dating behavior. She has been surprised by the variety of different ideas participants have had about what influences their decisions to date people.
Image source: Sarah Gomillion
Jamie states of her research, “I’m examining how meta-perception of the police affect legitimacy attitudes and support for collective action. Specifically, I'm interested in whether racial minorities feel dehumanized by the police (i.e., meta-dehumanization) and whether those perceptions increase the likelihood that people will dehumanize the police in return. Meta-dehumanization and dehumanization were expected to help explain legitimacy attitudes and support for both cooperative and uncooperative collective action.”
Jamie credits the small research grant with helping her recruit a large, diverse group of participants, which ensures that she can adequately detect effects. At this point in the project, the data supports her hypotheses: racial minorities, as compared to Caucasians, were more likely to feel dehumanized by the police and were likely to dehumanize police in return. This explained significant variance in police legitimacy attitudes, support for collective action, likelihood to report neighborhood crime, and support for invasive police procedures and policies.
One research finding that surprised Jamie was the strength with which meta-dehumanization, rather than dehumanization, predicted outcomes. Jamie notes, “The data suggest that feeling dehumanized, perhaps regardless of whether one dehumanizes in return, may motivate action and affect attitudes and beliefs about outgroups.”
Kymberlee’s research project investigates acute and chronic physiological stress related to micoraggressions. While overt discrimination has been recognized as a chronic stressor, her project looks at the physiological and psychological ramifications of more subtle devaluation via ambiguous or negative statements (which are sometimes intended to be compliments). Salivary cortisol (a measure of acute stress), hair cortisol (a measure of chronic stress), and cardiovascular parameters are measured, as well as self-reported experiences of microaggressions and discrimination. Health outcomes are assessed to determine possible associations on mental and physical health and how individuals recover from these stressors.
Kybmerlee notes, “There is a call in the literature to explicate how discrimination ‘gets under the skin’ and is a mechanism for widening health disparities for minorities and other disadvantaged populations in the U.S. While well-known correlations exist between self-reported discrimination and overall well-being, the present research highlights the more subtle physiological and psychological processes to better explain how ambiguous and negative experience translate into poor health and well-being.”
The grant money is being used primarily to pay participants. Kymberlee was surprised that, while the attention on microaggressions is new and they are a more recent focus of research, the idea that microaggressions are stressful is not at all novel to minority and international students.
Kimberly describes her research goal as, “Determining whether the self-concept can ‘expand’ to include not only other people but, to some extent, physical spaces, and whether this connection with the physical environment is associated with wellbeing. The grant is supporting a high-powered replication of a pilot experiment that I conducted several years ago, in which synchronizing with music while walking outdoors was used to induce self-expansion. The pilot demonstrated that focusing on the environment (versus the self or the music) was associated with higher wellbeing. Among those focused on the environment, the extent to which they synchronized with the music also correlated with both a stronger sense of physical connectedness with the environment and better psychological wellbeing.”
The grant money is being used to pay a doctoral student to collect and analyze data. The student is also assisting with a grant application relating to the affective and cognitive impacts of interacting with nature. Kimberly has been most surprised by the positive reception her project has received when she mentions it in presentations. She thought that an experiment that created physical connection to spaces via music might be viewed as trivial because of the “fun” element of incorporating musical rhythms.
Petra’s describes her research as “using a social neuroscience approach (i.e., electroencephalography, EEG) to investigate whether social power leads to a more efficient use of cognitive resources during task completion.” The small research grant covered the cost of the EEG supplies used in the project.
An aspect of her research that surprised her was the level of interest and motivation of the EEG participants. She commented, “Participants have to sit still for quite a long time, and the electrode gel messes up their hair. But participants typically don’t mind at all! They are often extra motivated and very interested in learning about both the study and the method. This makes collecting data especially rewarding.”
Image source: Petra Schmid
Colleen describes the context for her project as, “Traditionally, the intra-racial nature of romantic relationships has been explained by social network homophily – i.e., that one’s social network tends to be demographically similar – which limits exposure to potential dating partners of different races. With the advent of online dating, however, this explanation no longer holds as to why racial preferences in potential partners persists.”
According to Colleen, the aim of her research is, “to examine whether implicit biases affect partner preferences, controlling for amount of time spent assessing a profile. We anticipate that implicit biases may play a stronger role when decisions are made quickly (e.g., as on Tinder) as opposed to when people have more time to evaluate potential dates.”
The grant money is being used to pay online participants spanning the country, so that individuals can from a number of regions can take part in the project. The process by which the project was inspired was most surprising to Colleen. She was interviewed for an article, and her lab had researched attitudes towards interracial daters previously, but was surprised that she didn’t have an answer when asked if implicit attitudes helped to shape individuals’ dating preferences. The realization that this had not been studied struck her with a sense of urgency.
These seven small research grantees are tackling interesting questions, and their research findings could have significant real-world implications. If you would like to receive funding of up to $1,500 for your own research project, applications are being accepted until November 15 for the Spring 2017 grant cycle.