AU has key role in one of the largest studies in history of psychology; results now public

Members of the Ashland University International Collaboration Research Center demonstrate the neutral expressions used in the recently released face perception study.

11/01/2019 ASHLAND, Ohio – Within the past 24 hours, facial perception research involving 11,481 participants from 130 institutions spread across 48 countries and involving 24 different languages has been made public.

It is one of the largest studies in the history of psychology. And it all started at Ashland University.

It marks the completion of the first study undertaken by the Psychological Science Accelerator, the brainchild of AU associate professor of psychology Christopher R. Chartier. The worldwide network of laboratories involving more than 700 psychological scientists was launched in 2017 by a single blog post from Chartier, who reasoned a global collaboration could do for psychology what CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research – has done for particle physics.

Quite simply, Chartier said, “the PSA allows us to conduct really, really big tests of human psychology. This first study focused on social judgments we make just from looking at someone’s face.” Participants were asked to look at an array of 120 faces, then rate them on 13 different traits, such as intelligence, attractiveness, and trustworthiness.

And after two years of work, the results are in – both for the study and for the PSA’s first attempt at coordinating a massive global project.

As for facial perception, Chartier said, that turns out to be a little more complex than originally thought. As for the PSA, he said, “It’s an amazing success so far, bigger and better than we ever thought the project could be.” 

Originally, Chartier had hoped maybe 10 labs would answer the call, and would be able to collect data from around 1,000 participants for a given study. Instead, the call for collaborators got 10 times the response. 

For this first study (a preprint for which can be found at https://psyarxiv.com/n26dy/), the network took a second look at a 2008 Princeton University study concerning how people judge others based on facial perception. That research, which used a relatively small sample of students, concluded that people base their social judgments on two primary factors: valence (should the person be approached or avoided?) and dominance (is the person weak or strong?).

The PSA’s replication, which involved a much wider participant pool, including subjects from labs in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, turned up some interesting differences. “We found that for almost all world regions, social judgments based on face perception were more complex than was found and reported in the original study, and could not be reduced down to the same two primary factors; at least a third was present in most regions,” Chartier said.  “This suggests we simply have a way to go before we fully understand these social judgments in most world regions, and that this data set may provide a good basis on which to generate new theory about how it works.”

The report already has been peer reviewed and accepted in principle for publication in Nature Human Behaviour, the social science outlet of the Nature publishing group.

For AU students who participated in the project as part of the Ashland University International Collaboration Research Center housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, it offered valuable experience seldom afforded to undergraduates. Nine AU students contributed to the study at some level, while 2019 AU graduate Nick Bloxsom and senior Savannah Lewis appear as two of the study’s 214 co-authors and senior Dana Awlia co-authored the paper that introduced the accelerator to the global research community.

“(The experience) is really going to help me when I’m applying to graduate schools in the next month,” said Lewis, who helped with email routing, co-coordinated translations, and recorded experiment procedure videos. Though she began her undergraduate studies thinking she would pursue a career in clinical mental health, Lewis said she has found social psychology “is something I’m passionate about. Why not continue” that in grad school.

Awlia learned a lot about research from the hands-on experience she gained through the PSA, she said, as well as “that teamwork can be really powerful.” 

Five more studies involving the PSA already have been launched, Chartier said, while additional proposals are being received and reviewed each year. As more PSA research is published, “I think it will lead to a number of students coming to Ashland,” he said, adding that each year two or three incoming freshmen will receive $1,000 scholarships, renewable annually for as long as they stay with the PSA. 

But the involvement and impact reaches well beyond the Ashland campus. Nicolas Coles, a social psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee, said when he was tapped to serve as the study’s project manager, “I correctly predicted it would be one of my hardest research roles. I also correctly predicted it would be one of my most meaningful collaborations.

“I can’t wait to share the paper with the world,” Coles said in a social media post days before the release. 

The number of psychological scientists  involved in the PSA is also likely to grow “as more researchers are interested in joining us and using the network to test their hypotheses or to help test the hypotheses of others,” Chartier said.

And that can only be good for the future of research, regardless of what the outcome of the PSA studies might be. In the end, “we’re just always trying to get a little closer to the truth,” Chartier said. “That’s the motivating factor for me.”

 

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###