How do we learn who to trust, how to cooperate, when to reciprocate, and what to do when we have been treated unfairly? How do humans learn about reward and punishment contingencies during social interactions? The lab seeks to disentangle the cognitive and neural processes behind the complex choices that form the basis of human social behavior. Our approach is to first map and characterize the motivations driving pro-social decision-making, and second, to measure and manipulate contextual and emotional experiences that shape—and ultimately bias—these social choices. We take a multi-model perspective to social decision-making, working at the intersection of social psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics. Accordingly, we employ functional neuroimaging (fMRI), psychophysiological techniques, game theory, and learning models to elucidate these complex social phenomena. The lab’s research focuses on three main topics:


MORAL COGNITION & SOCIAL LEARNING  |  Many of society’s most fundamental questions revolve around moral behavior: Would you rather punish a stranger for stealing or compensate the victim? How much money would it take for you to harm another?  Most of us are motivated beyond self-interest, continually working to uphold social norms such as fairness and equity. However, we also seek to maximize our self-benefit. The lab explores the interplay between these competing pressures. We attempt to better understand the motivations underlying pro-social behavior and the conditions that uphold and break social norms. Using learning models, we examine how individuals use trial and error to learn the value of pro-social actions and outcomes. These models also clarify how individuals differentially weight altruistic and selfish motivations and make trade-offs between equitable versus efficient outcomes, depending on situational demands.

EMOTION  |  How do emotions shape our social interactions? Emotion is theorized to contribute to the representation and computation of value. We have shown that empathy—feeling concern for another—can motivate us to behave more altruistically. Yet our daily lives are rife with failures of empathy. The lab seeks to understand what conditions promote empathy and motivate pro-social behavior. We also investigate varying affective states—transient arousal and acute stress, for example—to probe the behavioral and neural relationship between emotion and social decision-making. Ultimately, we hope to understand whether there is a unique, quantifiably emotional signal that deters humans from engaging in self-interested, anti-social behavior.

SELF & OTHER  |  Deciding whether to help another in need, respond to violations of fairness, or reciprocate a good deed, requires individuals to appreciate the needs of both self and other. Yet there are deep disparities between how we perceive ourselves compared to how we perceive others. These asymmetries shape our social biases and create downstream effects on our decisions to be fair, altruistic, and cooperative. The lab seeks to identify and characterize how perceptions of self and other interact and how these asymmetries contribute to diverging patterns of pro-social behavior.