Institut Jean Nicod

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PhD Project : Influence of other’s emotional facial expressions on trust and cooperative behaviours

Supervisors : Jean-Pierre Nadal (CAMS, EHESS & LPS, ENS) & Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde (IJN, ENS-EHESS & LEM, Univ. Paris 2)

 The aim of this project is to investigate, by a multidisciplinary approach, the influence of other’s facial reactions during face-to-face cooperative tasks. Emotional facial dynamics are indeed argued to play a key role in driving interpersonal interactions. First, they are automatically proceed by observers to infer one’s affective states and dispositions. Moreover, emotional expressions directly elicit affective reactions in beholders by, for instance, emotional contagion. However, few is known today about how precisely such nonverbal social information is integrated into the decision making process, especially in the presence of other behavioral reinforcers such as food or money.

 We therefore propose to adapt social dilemmas widely used in behavioral economics, mainly Berg’s Trust Game, a bargaining game where participants have to entrust virtual partners personified by a facial avatar. This avatar is declined in different emotional expressions allowing that virtual trustees to display different facial reactions following participant’s decision. This reaction may or may not be coherent with her subsequent computerized response (cooperation or defection). That let us compare how both monetary reward and partner’s socio-affective feedback lead later trusting behavior. We next try to further understand their respective influence using modified reinforcement learning models fitted on the observed data. Such models should enable a more subtle description of how emotional reactions dynamically modulate participant’s impression of her partner’s trustworthiness, along with a better account of expected inter-individual variability. Finally we aim at exploring neural substrates of such face-to-face cooperative decisions through an adapted fMRI experiment. We should thus be able to compare to what extend cognitive, affective and reward networks are solicited by different kinds of reinforcers (monetary vs. social) and address the neurobiological relevance of previously proposed computational models.

Started in November 2010, funded by EHESS

Doctoral School 158 "Cerveau, cognition, comportement", Univ. Paris VI


Academic Research Background


2009-2010 : MSc in Cognitive Science, Major in Physics, Mathematics and Modeling - ENS & EHESS, Paris
Thesis : Validation of Panksepp’s Affective Neuroscience Personality Scale : exploring neural correlates of trait anxiety and fear by voxel-based morphometry.
supervised by Julie Grèzes at LNC, ENS

2008-2009 : MSc in Fundamental Physics, Major in Physics and Biological Systems - Université Paris XI
Thesis : Test of Baron-Cohen’s Extrem Male Brain theory of autism :
 recognition of emotional expressions in healthy and autistic individuals.
supervised by Julie Grèzes at LNC, ENS

2007-2008 : Honours level in Physics and Astronomy - Erasmus program, University of Glasgow
Internship : Monte-Carlo simulation of performances of an intraoperative beta probe dedicated to brain tumors surgery.
supervised by Laurent Ménard at IMNC, Univ. Paris XI

2006-2007 : BSc in Fundamental Physics - Université Paris XI
Internship : Single molecule manipulation by optical tweezers. Application to the measure of ribosome dynamics during DNA transcription.
supervised by Nathalie Westbrook at LCF, Institut d’Optique

2004-2006 : Preparation for competitive exams to french "Grandes Ecoles" - Lycée Blaise Pascal, Orsay Maths, Physics and Engineering.