John Kiat

My research in social cognition is done in collaboration with Dr. Jacob Cheadle. The focus of my research interests in this area lie primarily in social perception and risk-taking behavior. I am especially interested in utilizing EEG in novel ways to shed light on long running issues within these domains. My research in this area has been published in NeuroimageSocial Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, and Social Neuroscience. Early on in my training (during my undergraduate days) I also collaborated with Dr. Hera Lukman to investigate social perception, specifically discrimination towards strabismic individuals, among young children (ages 5-6 and 8 – 12), with manuscripts from that line of research published in BJO and JAAPOS.


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We just had this one published in Neuroimage. 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 the same. Building on this work, I sought to test the hypothesis that perhaps individuation exerted its influence on emphatic processing by shifting which aspects of the emphatic evaluation process were most strongly involved in determining emphatic outcome levels. I conducted this experiment using the procedure 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. When the targets were unnamed, the amount of attention they allocated towards processing their negative experiences were what  predicted their empathy levels.

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



We recently had this paper accepted to the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience!. A one sentence summary of this project might go something like, “Feedback response reactions on the BART can be modeled at the within-trial level and show evidence of linking with meaningful aspects of risk taking behavior”. As you might guess,  I am primarily interested in risk-taking as a dynamic ongoing process. To this end, I developed and applied a fairly novel analytic approach to the well known Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). On the BART participants progressively inflate a balloon receiving an incentive for each pump made while running the risk of over-pumping and causing it to explode at any given inflation.


Instead of investigating the neural reaction to just the final outcome, I analyzed the reaction to each individual pump’s outcome, controlling for visual confounds en route.  In parallel with increasing risk levels, I found progressive changes in neural components associated with risk-level encoding and increasingly negative outcome expectations. I also showed the latter effect to only be present among individuals with high levels of self-reported resistance to peer pressure. An intriguing real-world link!


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


This one dates way back from my undergraduate days and was led by 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.

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.