Jonathan successfully defended his PhD

Jonathan successfully defended his PhD December, 2021

Jonathan successfully defended his doctoral thesis, The impact of social information on emotional learning, on Thursday 16 December (2021) with Professor Disa Sauter, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam, as his opponent.

Principle supervisor: Prof. Andreas Olsson, CNS, KI.

Co-supervisors: Dr. Jan Haaker, Institute of Systems Neuroscience, University of Hamburg; Assoc. Prof. Karin Jensen, CNS, KI; Dr. Philip Pärnamets, CNS, KI.

Examination board: Dr. India Morrison, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Linköping University; Dr. Francisco Esteves, Department of Psychology and Social Work, Mid Sweden University; Dr. Roland Van den Berg, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University.

Abstract

Our survival is contingent on our ability to observe and interact with conspecifics. For example, by observing the facial expressions of others, we can vicariously learn to avoid potentially dangerous events without first-hand personal exposure, thus reducing the risk of harm. Furthermore, through direct social interactions, such as when we exchange facial expressions with another individual, we learn how to optimize our behavior, and thereby avoid dangerous social outcomes. Despite the large corpus of research on face perception and spontaneous responses to static faces, little is known about responses to faces in dynamic, naturalistic situations, and there are no studies that have examined how goal directed responses to other’s faces are affected by learning during dyadic interactions. Additionally, the underlying neurobiological processes governing learning in social settings remain largely unstudied.

To shed light on these phenomena pertaining to observational learning and decision-making processes in real-life, interactive settings, involving facial expressions, this thesis first aims at investigating how our endogenous opioid system can influence how we learn to associate threats to different stimuli in response to others’ facial expressions exhibiting painful reactions (Study I); and to study the learning mechanisms of optimizing facial expression exchange when deciding to either form a smile or a frown during interactive dyads in order to avoid aversive outcomes (Study II). Furthermore, we tested whether the learning process of optimizing one’s facial expression selection in interactive dyads was influenced by the interactant’s facial dominance (Study III).

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