Alexandria Digital Research Library

Neural and Facial Correlates of Affective Disposition during Morally-Salient Narratives

Mangus, James Michael
Degree Supervisor:
Rene Weber
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Behavioral sciences, Cognitive psychology, and Communication
Face detection
Inter-subject correlation
Affective disposition
Online resources and Dissertations, Academic
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Communication
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016

The recent growth of the neurophysiological paradigm has re-defined important concepts in communication. To better understand of how fictional narratives operate at a neurophysiological level, this study employs a combination of fMRI and face-tracking to explore affective disposition theory (ADT), which predicts that viewers' affective responses lead them to prefer narratives in which virtuous characters are rewarded and immoral characters are punished. Previous work has shown that inter-subject correlations (ISC) in brain activity are highest when viewing disposition-consistent narrative outcomes --- specifically, the punishment of immoral characters. The present study partially replicates these findings and also uses psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis to augment the notion that punishment of immoral characters yields discernibly different patterns of brain connectivity than other narrative content. To directly address the affective component of ADT, further PPI analyses compared high- and low-empathy participants. Results indicate that the patterns of co-activation between brain regions revealed through PPI are moderated by trait empathy: seeing good characters rewarded yields the same co-activation patterns among high-empathy individuals as seeing bad characters punished does among low-empathy individuals.

To provide another window into affective processing, automated face-tracking is used to evaluate whether greater ISCs in brain activity also yield greater similarities in the time-course of emotive facial expressions. Results indicate that correlations in facial expression vary systematically by experimental condition, but, contrary to the pattern of neuronal ISC, facial expressions exhibit the greatest correlation in disposition-inconsistent conditions. Furthermore, unlike neuronal ISC, correlations in facial expressions are significantly higher among high-empathy participants. In sum, these results support the view that disposition-consistent narrative content drives inter-subject correlation in brain activity, but that shared brain activity does not yield correlated displays of emotion; instead, emotive displays are moderated by empathy and may play a communicative role in expressing dissatisfaction with disposition-inconsistent narratives. The implications of these findings for further research into the affective component of ADT are discussed.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (77 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
James Mangus
File Description
Access: Public access
Mangus_ucsb_0035D_12883.pdf pdf (Portable Document Format)