New paper in PNAS

The paper Observation of others’ threat reactions recovers memories previously shaped by firsthand experiences is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Authored by Jan Haaker, Lorenzo Diaz-Mataix, Gemma Guillazo-Blanch, Sara A. Stark, Lea Kern, Joseph E. LeDoux, and Andreas Olsson.

In this paper we show, in humans and rats, that the mere observation of a conspecific’s threat reactions reinstates previously learned and extinguished threat responses in the observer. Our findings provide cross-species evidence that observation of others’ threat reactions can recover associations previously shaped by direct, firsthand aversive experiences and offers a perspective on how retrieval of threat memories draws from associative mechanisms that might underlie both observations of others’ and firsthand experiences.

New paper in R Soc Open Sci

The paper The face value of feedback: facial behaviour is shaped by goals and punishments during interaction with dynamic faces is published in Royal Society Open Science. Authored by Jonathan Yi, Philip Pärnamets and Andreas Olsson.

We validated our novel method based on online integration of electromyography signals from the participants’ face, to investigate how goal directed responses to faces are influenced by learning during dyadic interactions. We show that participants learned to optimize their facial behaviour, and replicated earlier findings of faster and more accurate responses in congruent versus incongruent conditions.

Philip awarded Swedish Research Council grant

Philip has been awarded 3.2 MSEK to study how decisions and social learning shape intergroup trust.

Trust is fundamental to social behavior and to the functioning of society. Recent work has shown that increasing diversity in society might lead to lower levels of trust. However, how such changes in trust are acquired by individuals and shaped by their experiences is not known. Here we propose to investigate trust as a learning phenomenon, using methods and theories from experimental social psychology and computational reinforcement learning theory. By doing so we address a critical gap in the literature and contribute a behavior-based approach to studying a trust complementing existing survey-based methods. Over the course of three studies we will investigate how participants learn to trust and distrust social partners based on their own and their partners’ ethnic group membership. In the first, we will investigate how decisions about whom to interact with can bias what experiences are available to learn from. In the second, we will investigate the role of observational social learning shaping trust expectations. In the third, we will leverage insights from the first two studies to pilot interventions aimed at increasing trust. The studies will be the first of their kind taking a comprehensive learning approach to trust between members of different ethnic groups and provide critical information how individual experiences shape intergroup trust. These findings can, in turn, not only inform existing theoretical debates but further translational efforts targeting societal trust.

New paper in Molecular Autism

The paper Enhanced social learning of threat in adults with autism is out in Molecular Biology. Authored by Lisa Espinosa, Johan Lundin Kleberg, Björn Hofvander, Steve Berggren, Sven Bölte, and Andreas Olsson.

We show that individuals with autism spectrum disorder, ASD, (versus healthy controls) display stronger vicarious threat learning in spite of less attention to the demonstrators’ face. ASD might impair the ability to downregulate threat responses in social situations. Our findings also show that vicarious threat learning does not require a typically developed social cognition.

New paper accepted in Proc. Royal Soc. B

The paper Help or flight? Increased threat imminence promotes defensive helping in humans has been accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Authored by Joana Vieira, Sabine Schellhaas, Erik Enström, and Andreas Olsson.

We demonstrate that high threat imminence (immediate risk of another person receiving a shock) facilitated helping behavior. Our findings suggest that, just like higher threat imminence fosters active avoidance from self-directed threats (fight-or-flight), it may promote helping when others are under threat.

Two postdoctoral positions available

Join the team! We are looking for two new postdocs. For full descriptions and information about the application process, see the links below.

Postdoc in social and cognitive neuroscience, Emotion Lab/Andreas Olsson’s research group,

Postdoc in decision-making and social/affective neuroscience, Emotion Lab/Andreas Olsson’s research group, jointly with Marc Guitart-Masip’s research group, Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institutet.

Andreas awarded Consolidator Grant

Andreas has been awarded the Consolidator Grant (12 M SEK) from the Swedish Research Council for the project “Learning of social values in threatening and safe environments” (2019-2024). The grant will be used to continue our work on how people learn social values, and what cues and conditions leads to fearing or trusting others, both in the lab and in the field.

Andreas at Göteborg Book Fair

This week, Andreas is at the Göteborg Book Fair (Bokmässan) to present his recent book “Gruppens grepp” [Grip of the Group], co-authored with Mikael Klintman and Thomas Lunderquist. It is aimed at those interested in how predjudices are formed, why we have a need to divide the world into “us” and “them” and what throws a spanner in the works of tolerance.

Andreas and Mikael will discuss these topics on Friday 28 September, 12:00-12:20, on Psykologiscenen, C-hallen Monternummer C04:32.


Armita to give Performance Lecture at Dramaten

Fear is a prerequisite for survival. Fear can also prevent us from living. Where does the fear come from? And how are we affected by it? These are some of the questions that psychology researcher Armita Golkar addresses in the third performance of The Royal Dramatic Theatre’s and Nobel Center’s series Performance Lecture. Under the direction of Alexander Mørk-Eidem. Premieres on Lilla scenen on September 11 2018 (the lecture will be given in Swedish).

Press release (link)

Philip in magazine Medical Science

The magazine Medical Science reports on work by Philip and colleagues: Curious about trust: Who do you believe? (Also available in Swedish.)

Who do you trust? Rumours – even when we know they are untrue, affects how much we trust others. And unfortunately, it is easier to destroy trust than to build it. Our capability to trust in others also varies, the researchers are trying to find out more.

Ida successfully defended her PhD

Ida successfully defended her PhD

Ida successfully defended her doctoral thesis, Learning from the Behaviors and Experiences of Others, on Monday 18 September (2017) with Professor Christian Ruff (University of Zurich, Department of Economics) as her opponent.
Examination board: Professor Peter Juslin (Uppsala University), Professor Anna Dreber Almenberg (Stockholm School of Economics) and Dr Marc Guitart-Masip (Karolinska Institutet)

New paper accepted in JEP: General

New paper accepted in JEP: General

Behaviour is considered more moral the more common it is

Is it less wrong to avoid tax if everyone else is doing it? A new study from Karolinska Institutet demonstrates that our view of what is morally right or wrong is shaped by how widespread a particular behaviour is. The results, which are presented in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, can improve our understanding of the psychological mechanisms behind attitudinal change in society.

Social norms of right and wrong are vital to a well-functioning society. However, such moral standards are changeable and the psychological mechanisms driving this change are unknown. Now, researchers at Karolinska Institutet report that our view of selfish and altruistic behaviours changes depending on how common they are.

The results are based on a combination of behavioural experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations. In the experiments, the participants first observed other people’s behaviour in a so-called “public goods game”, in which players receive a sum of money and then choose either to invest it to varying degrees so that it benefits everyone in the group, or to keep it for themselves. After every round, the participants were asked to judge the different choices as morally right or wrong, and whether the choices ought to be penalised with a reduction in how much the players gained.

An idea based on flawed logic

Altruistic behaviour was considered more morally right than selfish, but both behaviours were judged to be more moral and less deserving of penalty if the majority exhibited them than if they were uncommon. The commonness of the selfish behaviour also affected the participants’ willingness to themselves pay to punish selfishness.

“Tolerance of selfish behaviour increased when the majority of the players kept the money for themselves, which surprised me,” says principal investigator

, senior lecturer at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience. “The fact that a behaviour is common doesn’t automatically mean that it’s right – this idea is based on flawed logic that confuses facts with moral values.”

The study shows our view of what is morally right and wrong has strong similarities with social conformity, in that we tend to adapt ourselves to the people around us and how they behave. This means that changes in our social environment can quickly alter our moral compass.

Explains why moral attitudes change

“This is interesting from several angles, and could explain why moral attitudes change over time, such as those towards public goods or legality,” says Björn Lindström, postdoc at University of Zürich and Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience.

The study was financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, the European Research Council, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and Forte.


Tanaz successfully defended her PhD

Tanaz successfully defended her PhD

Tanaz successfully defended her doctoral thesis, The role of aversive learning in social interactions, on Friday October 21st (2016 with Dr. Grit Hein (University of Bern) as her opponent.
Examination board: Prof. Håkan Fischer (Stockholm University), Dr. Fredrik Åhs (Uppsala University) and Dr. Lisa Thorell (Karolinska Institutet).

Paper accepted in JEP:General

Paper accepted in JEP:General