"Children's reasoning about the stability of emotion and race" - "Developmental changes in amygdala habituation to emotional faces: fMRI and eye tracking indices."


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  • Speaker: Steven Roberts and Francisco Velasquez - Developmental Psychology Graduate Students
  • Host Department: Psychology
  • Date: 03/16/2015
  • Time: 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

  • Location: 4464 East Hall

  • Description:

    Abstract: Steven Roberts

    Do children think that race is stable? We examined adults' and children's (ages 5 to 9), both white and racial minority, beliefs about the relative stability of race and emotion, a temporary state. Participants were presented with target children who were happy or angry, and black or white, and asked to indicate which of two adults (a race- but not emotion-match or an emotion- but not race-match) each target child would grow up to be. In Study 1, no verbal cues were provided. In Study 2, verbal cues emphasizing the temporariness of emotion were provided. In Study 3, verbal cues emphasizing race were provided. Across all studies, our data suggest that an understanding of the stability of race varies by age and social groups, and that white 5- to 6-year-olds have a difficult time with this concept. Implications for children's race-based concepts are discussed.

    Abstract: - Francisco Velasquez
    Adolescence is a transition period where individuals encounter increased social situations. Attending to, understanding, and appropriately reacting to interpersonal stimuli in the environment is a vital part of social success. Since appropriate social behavior is determined by the context, an objective measure of implicit physical reaction to a social stimulus gives us the opportunity to understand the processes involved in socioemotional encounters. Amygdala habituation, a decrease in amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli after repeated exposure, is decreased in samples with social impairments compared to typically developing (TD) individuals (Kleinhans et al., 2012; Swartz et al., 2013).  Amygdala habituation may therefore be an appropriate neural reaction to social stimuli. However, past studies analyzing habituation have not been able to ensure visual attention to the social stimuli presented in fMRI protocols.

    The present study examined the relationship between development, amygdala habituation, and visual attention by simultaneously collecting fMRI and eye tracking data in a TD sample (N=28; Age range 12-24, M=18.26).

    We hypothesized that (1) healthy individuals would habituate to emotional faces and (2) habituation to faces would increase with age.

    Since there is an established relationship between eye contact and amygdala activation (Whalen et al., 2004), the relationship between eye tracking and habituation was presumed to have two possible outcomes: (1) There could be a positive correlation between amygdala activity and eye contact (i.e., over time, gaze to the eyes decreases and amygdala habituates) or (2) there may be no relationship between eye contact and amygdala habituation.

    Imaging results yielded significant right amygdala habituation to happy faces t(26) = 3.38, p = .024. Post-hoc analyses were performed to understand the relationship between age and habituation. A significant positive correlation between habituation to happy faces and age was found r(28) = .513, p =.005. That is to say, as age increases, habituation increases.  Preliminary eye tracking results for 14 participants point to a significant decrease of attention to the eyes in happy faces from the first half of the task to the second half t(13) = 2.597, p = .022.

    Habituation results support our hypothesis that healthy individuals habituate to emotional faces and that habituation increases with age. Eye contact to happy faces paralleled the relationship we saw in habituation. Eye contact in the first half of the task was significantly greater than in the second half.


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