Researchers investigating decision making have classically reduced the complexity of the decision task in order to isolate certain important variables for study. However, most of the decisions we make in everyday life do not take place in the vacuum of the laboratory. We make decisions in the context of our environmental surroundings, taking into consideration a multitude of factors.
One of these factors is the social context of the person making the decision. As the decision maker receives social information, either implicit such as reading facial expressions or explicit such as direct instruction from another person, they need to perform basic perceptual and cognitive processes to integrate this social information into the decision making process. Importantly, decision making in social contexts is not only the result of perceptual and cognitive operations but of emotional processes as well; it’s well established that emotions impact rational decision making. Thus, the goal of our research is to elucidate the unique as well as combined contributions that these perceptive, cognitive, and emotional processes have on social decision making.
With the above in mind, we’re currently conducting several lines of decision-making research. To do this, we’re using structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging as well as physiological measures, such as eye tracking and skin conductance, in the healthy individual. Furthermore, to complement our understanding of the how social information affects decision making, we are studying individuals with psychiatric conditions that involve socio-emotional impairments, such as autism and depression.