Dr. Maital Neta
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Psychology
Talk Title: In the face of uncertainty: Charting variability in response to emotional ambiguity
Abstract: Our daily lives are saturated with affective value (e.g., a visit from a friend, the ringing of an alarm clock, a beautiful sunset, a hot cup of coffee). When we encounter new information (new people, sounds, locations, flavors), we readily sort this information into emotional valence categories: good or bad, reward or threat, approach or avoid. Facial expressions, in particular, convey rich information about another person and the environment. Some expressions are clear-cut (angry face predicts threat/avoidance), whereas others are more ambiguous, because they can readily predict both rewarding or threatening outcomes. For example, a surprised facial expression is associated with both positive (a surprise visit from an old friend) and negative (hearing that a loved one was in a car accident) information. We and others have documented a wide range of individual differences in ‘valence bias,’ or the tendency to categorize ambiguous cues (e.g., surprised faces) as having a positive or negative valence. This bias appears to represent a trait-like individual difference, as it is stable across time and across information. Interestingly, despite these individual differences, we have proposed an initial negativity hypothesis, such that ambiguous cues initially activate a negative valence representation, and that a positive representation may require a putative regulatory mechanism to override the initial negativity. In this talk, I will discuss just a few of the approaches (behavioral, neuroimaging, developmental) that we have used in the lab to examine these individual differences in valence bias and to support our initial negativity hypothesis
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