Research Interests: Computational Neuroscience, Branding, Advertising, Financial decision making, Eye-Tracking
Links: Google Scholar
Feng Sheng is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Marketing and is associated with the Wharton Neuoroscience Initiative. He obtained his Ph.D. in Management Science from Peking University
Abstract: Human beings process perceptual and affective information of racial out-groups in a degraded manner. Relative to racial in-group members, we lack perceptual individuation of racial out-group members and empathize their pain to a less degree. To date, however, the relationship between the deficiency of individuation and the impairment of empathy in responding to racial out-groups remains elusive. By recording event-related brain potentials in response to racial in-group and out-group faces portraying pain and neutral expressions, we simultaneously measured neural activity that underpinned individuation and empathy. Deficiency in individuating members of racial out-groups, manifesting as reduced reactivity of face-sensitive N170 in the occipitotemporal region of the brain, predicted attenuation of fronto-central empathic response to the suffering of racial out-groups. Further, the individuation bias mediated the influence of racial prejudice on racial in-group bias in empathic neural responses. These findings suggest an interplay between degraded perceptual and affective processing of racial out-groups.
Abstract: To investigate whether coding pain expressions of own-race and other-race individuals engages overlapping or distinct neuronal populations, we recorded event-related brain potentials from Chinese and Caucasian adults when viewing an adaptor face (with pain or neutral expressions) and a target face (with only pain expression) presented in rapid succession. If distinct neuronal populations are engaged in coding pain expressions of different races, repetition suppression (RS) of neural activity to pain expressions, that is, decreased neural responses to target faces preceded by pain versus neutral adaptors, should occur when an adaptor and a target are of the same race but not when they are of different races. We found that neural responses to adaptor faces at 128–188 ms (P2) and 200–300 ms (N2) over the frontal/central areas were positively shifted by pain versus neutral expressions. Moreover, RS of neural responses to target faces in the P2/N2 windows occurred when an adaptor and a target were of the same race but not when their racial identities differed, and these effects were observed in both Chinese and Caucasian participants. Our results suggest that perception of pain expressions of different races may recruit distinct neuronal assemblies at a specific stage of the processing stream.
Abstract: Cognitive distortion in depression is characterized by enhanced negative thoughts about both environment and oneself. Carriers of a risk allele for depression, that is, the short (s) allele of the serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism (5-HTTLPR), exhibit amygdala hyperresponsiveness to negative environmental stimuli relative to homozygous long variant (l/l). However, the neural correlates of negative self-schema in s allele carriers remain unknown. Using functional MRI, we scanned individuals with s/s or l/l genotype of the 5-HTTLPR during reflection on their own personality traits or a friend's personality traits. We found that relative to l/l carriers, s/s carriers showed stronger distressed feelings and greater activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC)/dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and the right anterior insula (AI) during negative self-reflection. The 5-HTTLPR effect on the distressed feelings was mediated by the AI/inferior frontal (IF) activity during negative self-reflection. The dACC/dmPFC activity explained 20% of the variation in harm-avoidance tendency in s/s but not l/l carriers. The genotype effects on distress and brain activity were not observed during reflection on a friend's negative traits. Our findings reveal that 5-HTTLPR polymorphism modulates distressed feelings and brain activities associated with negative self-schema and suggest a potential neurogenetic susceptibility mechanism for depression.
Abstract: Recent event related brain potential research observed a greater frontal activity to pain expressions of racial in-group than out-group members and such racial bias in neural responses to others' suffering was modulated by task demands that emphasize race identity or painful feeling. However, as pain expressions activate multiple brain regions in the pain matrix, it remains unclear which part of the neural circuit in response to others' suffering undergoes modulations by task demands. We scanned Chinese adults, using functional MRI, while they categorized Asian and Caucasian faces with pain or neutral expressions in terms of race or identified painful feelings of each individual face. We found that pain vs. neutral expressions of Asian but not Caucasian faces activated the anterior cingulate (ACC) and anterior insular (AI) activity during race judgments. However, pain compared to race judgments increased ACC and AI activity to pain expressions of Caucasian but not Asian faces. Moreover, race judgments induced increased activity in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex whereas pain judgments increased activity in the bilateral temporoparietal junction. The results suggest that task demands emphasizing an individual's painful feeling increase ACC/AI activities to pain expressions of racial out-group members and reduce the racial bias in empathic neural responses.
Abstract: Oxytocin (OT) influences how humans process information about others. Whether OT affects the processing of information about oneself remains unknown. Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subject design, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) from adults during trait judgments about oneself and a celebrity and during judgments on word valence, after intranasal OT or placebo administration. We found that OT vs. placebo treatment reduced the differential amplitudes of a fronto-central positivity at 220–280 ms (P2) during self- vs. valence-judgments. OT vs. placebo treatment tended to reduce the differential amplitude of a late positive potential at 520–1000 ms (LPP) during self-judgments but to increase the differential LPP amplitude during other-judgments. OT effects on the differential P2 and LPP amplitudes to self- vs. celebrity-judgments were positively correlated with a measure of interdependence of self-construals. Thus OT modulates the neural correlates of self-referential processing and this effect varies as a function of interdependence.
Abstract: The intergroup relationship between a perceiver and a target person influences empathic neural responses to others’ suffering, which are increased for racial in-group members compared to out-group members. The current study investigated whether oxytocin (OT), a neuropeptide that has been linked to empathic concern and in-group favoritism, contributes to the racial bias in empathic neural responses. Event-related brain potentials were recorded in Chinese male adults during race judgments on Asian and Caucasian faces expressing pain or showing a neutral expression after intranasal self-administration of OT or placebo. A fronto-central positive activity at 128–188 ms (P2) was of larger amplitude in response to the pain expressions compared with the neutral expressions of racial in-group members but not of racial out-group members. OT treatment increased this racial in-group bias in neural responses and resulted in its correlation with a positive implicit attitude toward racial in-group members. Our findings suggest that OT interacts with the intergroup relationship to modulate empathic neural responses to others’ suffering
Feng Sheng (2012), Manipulations of cognitive strategies and intergroup relationships reduce the racial bias in empathic neural responses, NeuroImage, 61 (4), pp. 786-797. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.04.028
Abstract: Social relationships affect empathy in humans such that empathic neural responses to perceived pain were stronger to racial in-group members than to racial out-group members. Why does the racial bias in empathy (RBE) occur and how can we reduce it? We hypothesized that perceiving an other-race person as a symbol of a racial group, rather than as an individual, decreases references to his/her personal situation and weakens empathy for that person. This hypothesis predicts that individuating other-race persons by increasing attention to each individual's feelings or enclosing other-race individuals within one's own social group can reduce the RBE by increasing empathic neural responses to other-race individuals. In Experiment 1, we recorded event related brain potentials from Chinese adults as they made race judgments on Asian and Caucasian faces with pain or neutral expressions. We identified the RBE by showing that, relative to neutral expressions, pain expressions increased neural responses at 128–188 ms after stimulus onset over the frontal/central brain regions, and this effect was evident for same-race faces but not for other-race faces. Experiments 2 and 3 found that paying attention to observed individual's feelings of pain and including other-race individuals in one's own team for competitions respectively eliminated the RBE by increasing neural responses to pain expressions in other-race faces. Our results indicate that the RBE is not inevitable and that manipulations of both cognitive strategies and intergroup relationships can decrease RBE-related brain activity.