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The CHEN lab utilizes computational tools and models to study social interactions and their influence on beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, as well as their corresponding brain representations.

Social Interaction in Clinical Contexts

  • How do doctors reveal and transmit their beliefs to patients?

  • How do trust play a role in establishing doctor-patient relationship?

  • How can we study these processes using computational tools?


Using machine-learning, we have shown that subtle changes in doctors’ facial expression behaviors during clinical interactions can impact patients’ pain experiences (Chen et al., 2019, Nature Human Behaviour). We also have found that trust is related to certainty and betrayal aversion, but not reward anticipation based on neurometircs in neuroimaging data (Chen et al., in prep). Future projects will continue to explore these lines of investigation as well as examining how cultural differences in clinical interactions impact the expression of disease symptoms.

Research: Research

Social Status Across Cultures

  • How does social status influence decision making during social interaction in different cultures?

  • How can we formalize the concept of social status in a computational model?


Although many years of research have concluded that social status may be more prominent in one culture than another, little work has attempted to formalize cross-cultural differences of social status. CHEN Lab recently received a new grant from the Ministry of Science and Technology to model preferences for social status and understand how shared perceptions of social status can impact human behaviors. Come join our team!

Tracking Daily Experiences via Smartphone Apps

  • How do affective experiences influence our self-control?

  • How do smartphone apps change our daily experiences and health outcomes?

Although our past research has shown the balance between the control and reward systems in the brain can impact health outcomes (Chen et al., 2017; Chen et al., 2019), we are currently interested in how daily affective experiences influence our health behaviors. To do so, we have developed a smartphone app called Appetite Tamer to track how daily experiences influence self-control behaviors, such as resisting temptation to eat. Future projects will develop new apps to track daily experiences and how these experiences influence health outcomes.

Immigrant Acculturation and Social Networks

  • How do immigrants acculturate?

  • How are acculturation experiences encoded in the brain and how do these experiences influence immigrants' adaption?

  • How do immigrants form social networks in a new culture?

Using a longitudinal approach, we have found immigrants who are self-motivated to go abroad possess a more independent self-construal (Chen et al., 2013), but changes in self-construal during the process of acculturation were reflected in the brain areas implicated in self-referential processing (Chen et al., 2015). We also found that immigrants were more likely to make in-group friends if the brain reward regions responded more to images of in-group faces  than out-group faces (Chen et al., 2015). Future projects will use a computational approach to examine how immigrants encode their social and affective experiences (Chen et al., 2020; Chen et al., 2021, Science Advances) during acculturation and how these dynamic representations explain their social behaviors and social networks in a new cultural context.

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