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 interests focus on socio-attentional biases in young adults. My work focuses primarily on biases in social perception, risk-taking and the impact of adverse social outcomes. My research in these areas is published in NeuroImageSocial Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, Social Neuroscience and the International Journal of Psychophysiology.


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News features of this investigative line can be found here and here!

A one-sentence summary of this research line might go something like, “Knowing a person’s name shifts 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 are 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 project 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.

More recently I have completed a study which models the within-trial temporal dynamics of empathic responding at a finer grained individual-trial level. With the manuscript currently in review, I look forward to updating this space soon with more information!

Kiat, J.E, Cheadle, J.E. (2017). The Impact of Individuation on the Bases of Human Empathic Responding. Neuroimage, 155, 312-321.



A one-sentence summary of this research line might go something like, “The sequential escalation dynamics of risk feedback processing have the potential to shed light on meaningful aspects of real-world risk-taking”. As opposed to a single decision framework, my primary interest in this area is to model risk-taking as a dynamic multi-stage process, an approach which has significant potential to spark new insights on the dynamics of risk-taking behavior. One of the studies I conducted in this area 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-known paradigm in which participants inflate balloons for cash while trying not to cause them to explode.


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.

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.

Click here for a poster version of the paper

More recently we extended this “escalation” approach to model risk-taking reactivity in a pretty fun way. Specifically, we designed a risk-taking experience around the Crocodile Dentist game. That’s right, this Crocodile Dentist game;

Our goal was to dissociate aspects of risk reactivity linked with decision making from “raw” risk-related reactivity. To illustrate, imagine two people playing blackjack, both of them decide to draw an extra card. Now, you might well find differences in the neural response to that card-drawing-response between them. However, are those differences due to differences in their fear of negative outcomes, their decision to draw a card or some complex combination of the two? This problem extends to the feedback they receive from their actions too. How much of that reaction is due to the outcome itself and how much from factors associated with their prior decision (loosely speaking “regret”).

Using this adapted task, we asked participants to press on each tooth in a set order. No decisions involved. We could then model how their ERP responses to the “press the tooth!” cues changed as a function of how many teeth had already been depressed (i.e. risk level). Our results showed firstly, increased reactivity, as indexed by the LPP. towards “press” cues at higher levels of risk. Furthermore, this increase was elevated as a function of individual differences in reported binge-drinking frequency. Providing a lovely real-world brain-behavior association.

Relevant Publication :  Kiat, J.E., Cheadle, J.E. (in press). Tick-Tock Goes the Croc: A High-Density EEG Investigation of Risk-Taking Reactivity and Binge-Drinking Susceptibility. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.


News features of this investigative line here and here!

A key component of social attention involves quickly perceiving and responding to social judgments others direct towards us. On this end, my research focuses on attentional biases which influence actual as well as anticipatory responses 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 investigation was conducted 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.

More recently, I have extended this line of research using the well-established Cyberball task, a paradigm in which participants engage in a game of catch with virtual avatars who after an initial period of fair-play (inclusion condition) then exclude the participant from the game (exclusion condition). Me and my colleagues (Kiat, Goosby, & Cheadle, International Journal of Psychophysiology), recently found that levels of attention, again indexed by the P300, oriented to event cues preceding actual trial outcomes on the Cyberball task are significantly elevated during the exclusion vs. inclusion trial block, providing direct evidence of the impact of social exclusion on anticipatory attentional monitoring.


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

Kiat, J.E., Cheadle, J.E. Goosby, B.J. (in press). The Impact of Social Exclusion on Anticipatory Attentional Processes. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 123, 48-57.


This (currently archived) line of work, 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 strabismus by conducting a social preference experiment with children ages 5-6 and 8-12. Our results showed that 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 strabismus . 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.