NWO Veni grant for dr. Mariska Kret
July 18, 2014 - Dr. Mariska Kret (University of Amsterdam) was awarded a Veni grant by NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) for her research project "Role of Pupil-synchronization in Trust".
Many daily decisions are made through quick evaluations of another's trustworthiness, especially when the decision involves strangers. In this process, individuals rely on a partner's tractable characteristics, such as group membership, facial expression and eye gaze. Intriguingly, my own recent research suggests that individuals also respond to their partner's pupil-size (Kret, Tomonaga & Matsuzawa, in press). Pupil-size is an interesting social signal, because it cannot be controlled or faked, in contrast to features such as eye gaze and expression. I showed that seeing someone's pupils dilate promotes trust. In addition, I showed that people synchronize their pupil-size with an observed person. These unprecedented findings suggest a link between autonomic pupil-synchronization and trust. Here I propose to study this relationship at the behavioural and neural level, and examine a targeted set of possible contextual moderators. Objective 1 is to test whether pupil-synchronization with dilating pupils provides feedback that the interaction partner is trustworthy. Objective 2 is to test the neuro-hormonal mechanisms. I predict that pupil-synchronization and subsequent development of trust shows neural overlap with empathy and is strengthened by oxytocin, a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in social bond-formation and pro-social behavior. Objective 3 is to examine possible moderators by manipulating in/out-group characteristics of the observed. Objective 1 and 3 involve behavioural experiments that manipulate observed or, innovatively, participant's pupil-size and measures, through eye-tracking technology, the putative link between pupil-synchronization and trust. Objective 2 involves an extensive fMRI/eye-tracking study in which oxytocin (vs. placebo) is manipulated, enabling to uncover the neuro-hormonal mechanisms that engage when people synchronize with another's pupil-size. The project primarily intends to build and test new theory, but also has applied relevance for patient care.