I was born and lived in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) for over 23 years. More specifically, I was located in the eastern region of Scarborough. I graduated from the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) in 2013 after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Psychology. During my time at UTSC, I completed my honor’s thesis under the supervision of Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould and eventually became a lab manager for Dr. Michael Inzlicht’s Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience and Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould’s Embodied Social Cognition Lab.
After completing my undergraduate studies, I re-located to Iowa City, Iowa to attend the University of Iowa. Working with Daryl Cameron, I obtained my Master’s degree in Psychology, branching together my interests in morality, self-regulation, empathy, and social neuroscience. I was a participant of the NIH-funded T32 training program, through which I was able to complete funded rotations in Dr. Daniel Tranel’s Neuropsychology Lab and Dr. Jan Wessel’s Cognitive Neurology Lab. Both opportunities provided me with experience with the Iowa Lesion Patient Registry as well as EEG methods.
My lab transitioned to University Park, Pennsylvania where I completed my Ph.D. in Psychology. My dissertation was completed, examining intergroup differences in preferences to moralize transgressions across political intergroup lines. Recently, I transitioned to the Bay Area to work as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory with Dr. Robert Levenson. I will be conducting research focused on patients with neurodegenerative diseases and their caregivers to better understand their emotionality, empathic responding, and various outcomes relating to caregiver mental health. Outside of my research, I enjoy being a gym rat, playing competitive basketball, as well as enjoying searching for local breweries and coffee shops. When not exploring the outside, I engage in the occasional binge-watching of Family Guy or The Simpsons.
I broadly examine why prosocial responses (e.g., affective responses and charitable donations) often appear disproportional to the magnitude of the suffering victims. For instance, in response to mass suffering, people appear to respond with less prosociality compared to when there are fewer victims, or even when one knows the victim (i.e., identifiable victim effect). This may be due to the emotional responses associated with wanting to respond to social inequalities (e.g., empathy, compassion, outrage) decreasing for mass suffering, seen through phenomena such as the collapse of compassion or compassion fade.
I currently apply effort-based decision-making (EBDM) models to examine how people evaluate the rewards and costs of feeling and experiencing moral emotions towards social targets across different contexts (e.g., mass suffering, social injustices, ideological out-groups). By knowing how people subjectively evaluate the rewards and costs of these emotions, like empathy (Cameron et al., 2019, JEP:G) and compassion (Scheffer et al., 2021, JEP:G) across different contexts, we can better calibrate our understanding of when and why people may choose to help certain people over others.
A prominent issue today is the growing political polarization occurring in the United States. People across ideological divides are less willing to trust and cooperate with people across the political aisle, and further, seek to separate even geographically from them. One potential cause of this can be seen with the way people prioritize incoming information in ways that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. People are known to view a single event and yet, based on their partisan affiliations, may choose to focus on it using two completely different perspectives. For instance, Democrats and Republicans had divergent viewpoints and reactions to the standoff of Native American activist Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann outside the Lincoln Memorial, fueled by Nicholas’ “Make America Great Again” hat as a cue of his political values. Part of the issue may have been due to misperceiving the intentions, values, and morals of individuals across group lines, especially if people narrow their attention in ways that cause these misperceptions.
I currently examine how people misperceive the motives and values of others, focusing on supporters of two major political parties in the United States: Democratic Party supporters and Republican Party supporters. My work has found that Democrats and Republicans engage in stereotypes about compassion across the political spectrum (Scheffer et al., 2020, Emotion), showing that Democrats and Republicans do not differ in self-reported compassion, but that they stereotype the average Democrat/liberal as more compassionate than the average Republican/conservative, and that this stereotype was engaged in asymmetrically by Democrats. Moving forward from this work, I am examining whether Democrats and Republicans asymmetrically apply moral principles when considering actions across partisan intergroup contexts. In order to understand why people may be less able to engage across the political aisle, I examine whether misperceptions and desires to maintain pre-existing beliefs may lead to issues of intergroup cooperation and communication.
Many minority groups experience marginalization and social injustice, such as bullying and violence towards underrepresented racial groups, and women facing unequal hiring and promotion opportunities in STEM fields. More privileged majority group members when witnessing these injustices may experience moral emotions like empathy, compassion, and outrage, and want to do something to restore justice for these minorities – through fostering allyship with these marginalized groups. When majority group members feel and experience moral emotions, they predict desires to confront and respond to the suffering of others. Yet, little work directly examines the perspectives of minorities to compare whether allies respond in the ways that minorities actually desire.
In this developing line of research, I am examining how communicating suffering from minorities’ perspectives feels and the downstream impacts of this. Further, I am exploring how certain moral emotions facilitate ally responses that minorities actually desire. Knowing how to best foster a sense of understanding between majority and minority group members is important, so that minority groups can successfully progress their status in society.