Rengin Firat. Neurosociology of Race: An fMRI Investigation of the Effects of Social Values on Neural Responses to Social Exclusion.

via Zoom

Social exclusion and discrimination lead to health detriments by elevating physiological stress responses. Previous research has shown that interactions with out-group race members increase bodily stress responses (i.e. cortisol changes, cardiovascular reactivity) and activation in brain regions related to feeling physical pain. However, some minority groups are better protected from these negative effects. Stress responses are moderated by various social factors including societal value orientations. This talk focuses on a research study that investigated how social distress and awareness neural networks are modulated by two general social value domains, agentic and communalistic values, in African American and white participants. Social exclusion was manipulated with a virtual ball tossing game (Cyberball) where participants were included or excluded from the game during the ball tosses from other players. Findings suggest that African American respondents showed greater activation in their brain regions related to self-awareness and attention than their white counterparts during the exclusion (vs. inclusion) rounds after completing an agentic (vs communalistic) value pronoun circling task.  In a way, they were better able to tune into the problems in their immediate environment. Differential effects of values on neural responses to social exclusion and their implications for sociology will be discussed.


Rengin Firat is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and an affiliate faculty member at the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Firat received her Ph.D. in Sociology Dept. from the University of Iowa in 2013 and held a post-doctoral researcher position at the Evolution, Cognition and Culture Laboratory at University of Lyon, France from 2013 to 2015. Her work cuts across sociology and neurosciences to investigate how the human mind organizes and motivates social behavior, particularly focusing on racial bias, discrimination and ethno-racial inequalities of well-being and health. She incorporates both quantitative sociological survey methodologies and neurological theories and techniques (such as functional magnetic resonance imaging) in her research. Dr. Firat’s research has been published in outlets like American Behavioral Scientist, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Social Science ResearchPerspectives on Psychological Science and Advances in Group Processes.