An Analysis of Emotional Processing in Natural Sciences vs. Humanities and Social Sciences University Students
Authors:Ryan Bailey, Neggin Keshavarzian, Robert Zhang
Mentor:Kimmy Kee, Associate Professor of Psychology, California State University Channel Islands
Recent studies have demonstrated that autism-spectrum disorders (nonclinical samples with subtle traits of autism) may be more prevalent in individuals who pursue a career in either the field of Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, or Computer Programming compared to those in the field of Humanities or Social Sciences. In addition, these healthy individuals with traits of autism have further shown impairments in emotional processing, specifically identifying emotional valence. However, very little is currently known about other aspects of emotional processing that are critical for adaptive functioning. The current ongoing study compares 30 undergraduate students in the Natural Sciences versus 23 students in the Humanities and Social Sciences on their performance across a broad scope of emotional processes (i.e., identifying emotional valence and arousal, emotional awareness, and emotional creativity). Emotional processing was assessed using the International Affective Picture System (IAPS), Toronto Alexithymia Scale, and Emotional Creativity Inventory. Interim analyses performed using a series of t-tests revealed significant group differences in identifying emotional valence for negative (t(51) = 2.35, p = 0.0115, Cohen’s d = 0.65) and neutral (t(51) = -1.64, p = 0.0535, Cohen’s d = 0.44) images as well as arousal (t(51) = -1.68, p = 0.0495, Cohen’s d = 0.46), with students in the Natural Sciences exhibited poorer performance on these aspects of emotional processing compared to those in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In addition, the group effects were at a trend level for emotional awareness (t(51) = -1.55, p = 0.0635, Cohen’s d = 0.43) and emotional creativity (t(51) = 1.39, p = 0.086, Cohen’s d = 0.39), with the Natural Sciences sample showing poorer emotional processing outcomes compared to the Humanities and Social Sciences sample. These preliminary findings may potentially expand our understanding of the role of various aspects of emotional processing in different groups of healthy individuals.