John Kiat

Building on my early work assessing disability prejudice in children (Lukman, Kiat et al., 2010: BJO; Lukman, Kiat et al., 2011: JAAPOS, my primary research program looks at the neural processes underlying social cognition in young adults. My work focuses primarily on biases in social evaluation and the impact of negative social outcomes.

The focus of my research interests in this area lie primarily in social perception and risk-taking behavior. My research in this area has been published in NeuroimageSocial Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, and Social Neuroscience..


Capture (1)

A one sentence summary of this project might go something like, “Knowing a person’s name changes the factors which influence how emphatic we are towards them”. This project was motivated by prior work conducted by Meyer et al. (2013) and Wang et al. (2016), which had shown that while neural responses towards known vs. unknown individuals was significantly different, behavioral ratings of those experiences were effectively identical. Building on this work, I hypothesized that, instead of influencing the same underlying process, individuation impacts empathy by shifting its informational sources. This projected provided evidence to support this by showing empathy for named targets to be strongly predicted by the amount of attention participants allocate, as indexed by the P300 response, towards their faces. This pattern was completely absent for unnamed targets, providing a strong example of individuation shifting the bases of empathy towards factors related to a target’s identity. The procedure of this investigation is depicted below :

My main finding from this study was that attention related (P300) activity during the target evaluation phase was strongly predictive of pain ratings only when the targets were individuated. Pain ratings of unindividuated targets was instead predicted by attention related activity during the expression evaluation phase. In other words, when participants knew the name of the targets, the amount of attention they allocated towards processing their faces predicted how emphatic they were.

Kiat, J.E, Cheadle, J.E. (2017). The Impact of Individuation on the Bases of Human Empathic Responding. Neuroimage, 155, 312-321. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.05.006



A one sentence summary of this project might go something like, “Within-trial ERP responses on the BART show evidence of linking with meaningful aspects of real world risk taking”. As opposed to a static single decision perspective, my research in this area models risk-taking as a dynamic multi-stage process, an approach which has significant potential to spark new insights on the neural dynamics underlying risk-taking behavior. My work (Kiat, Straley, & Cheadle, 2016: SCAN), was the first to show sequentially escalating changes in the feedback-related-negativity (FRN), a neural response associated with performance feedback processing, as a function of higher levels of risk taking on the Balloon Analogue Risk Task, a well-validated paradigm in which participants pump up balloons for cash while trying not to over-inflate them.


In addition to this, the observed sequential rise in the FRN response was reduced among participants with higher levels of peer influence resistance, providing an intriguing link to real-world social risk tolerance. In addition to these area specific contributions, these findings represent a timely general interest contribution to the EEG literature given current debate on the signed versus unsigned nature of the FRN response.

We’ve since replicated this study with an interesting extension involving the use of neutral vs. social feedback. We have also developed a new novel adverse risk-taking task that has been designed from the ground up to have escalating components both at the trial and task level. Stay tuned to this space for future updates!

Relevant Publication :

Kiat, J.E., Straley, E., & Cheadle, J. E. (2016). Escalating risk and the moderating effect of resistance to peer influence on the P200 and feedback-related negativity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 11(3): 377-386. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsv121

Click here for a poster version of the paper


Another dimension of social evaluation involves quickly perceiving and responding to social judgments directed towards us. On this end, my research focuses on attentional biases which influence our response to negative social outcomes. My collaborative work (Social Neuroscience) on this first looked at the role of social cues in biasing attention towards social exclusion. This was accomplished using a novel paradigm called the Lunchroom task, developed by Caitlin Hudac & Allison Skinner, in which participants are repeatedly included and excluded by virtual avatars, with each event preceded by either neutral or subtle race-identity specific discriminatory cues. This work showed significantly reduced attentional reactivity to exclusion outcomes, as indexed by P300 responses, preceded by discriminatory cues relative to neutral ones, highlighting the importance of social cues in moderating negative social reactivity.

I have since moved on to focus my work in this area on the well-established Cyberball task. My recent work in this area has shown that social exclusion directly biases attention towards cues preceding social outcomes (Kiat, Goosby, & Cheadle, in revision). Looking forward to updating this space in a few months once the paper on this makes it all the way through!

Kiat, J.E., Straley, E., Cheadle, J. E. (2016). Why Won’t They Sit with Me? An Exploratory Investigation of Stereotyped Cues, Social Exclusion, and the P3b. Social Neuroscience. 12(5), 612-625


This one dates way back from my undergraduate days working with Dr. Hera Lukman. In this line of research we sought to empirically assess the developmental onset of negative perceptions towards individuals with conspicuous strabimus by conducting a social preference experiment with children ages 5-6 and 8-12. Our results showed the both age groups showed evidence of having negative social views (willingness to share toys [ages 5-6] and willingness to sit next to [ages 8-12] towards individuals with conspicuous strabimus. As strabismus is for the most part a correctable condition, these findings provide a rationale for early correction to mitigate the potential impact of early discriminatory experiences.

Lukman, H., Kiat, J.E., Ganesan, A., Chua, W.L., Khor, K.L., Choong, Y.F. (2010). Strabismus-related prejudice in 5-6-year-old children. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 94,1348-1351.

Lukman, H., Kiat, J.E., Ganesan, A., Chua, W.L., Khor, K.L., Choong, Y.F. (2010). Negative Social Reaction to Strabismus in School Children Ages 8-12 years. Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 15(3):238-40.