SOCIAL FUNCTIONING AND EMOTIONAL PROCESSING IN NATURAL SCIENCES VERSUS HUMANITIES/SOCIAL SCIENCES UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
Authors:Ryan Bailey, Jason Griffin, Neggin Keshavarzian, Jennifer McCoy, Ryan Stokes
Mentor:Kimmy Kee, Professor of Psychology, California State University Channel Islands
Recent studies have demonstrated that autism-spectrum disorders seem to be prevalent in people pursuing a career in Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, or Computer Programming. These healthy individuals with traits of autism have also shown impairments in social functioning and identifying emotion. However, 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 (NS) versus 23 students in the Humanities/Social Sciences (HSS) on social functioning and a broad scope of emotional processes (identifying emotional valence and arousal, emotional awareness, and emotional creativity), using the following measures: Autism-Spectrum Quotient, images selected from the International Affective Picture System, Self-Assessment Manikin, Toronto Alexithymia Scale, and Emotional Creativity Inventory. A series of t-test revealed that students in the NS demonstrated significantly more deficits in social functioning compared to the HSS sample (t(51) = -3.50, p = 0.0495, Cohen’s d = 0.96). These NS participants further reported less unpleasantness (t(51) = 2.35, p = 0.0115, Cohen’s d = 0.65) and experienced less arousal when viewing negative images t(51) = -1.68, p = 0.0495, Cohen’s d = 0.46), but identified more unpleasantness when viewing positive images (t(51) = -1.77, p = 0.042, Cohen’s d = 0.49). Also, the NS students tended to report more unpleasantness when viewing neutral images (t(51) = -1.64, p = 0.054, Cohen’s d = 0.44). 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 NS sample showing poorer outcomes compared to the HSS sample. These findings may potentially expand our understanding of the role of functional outcome and aspects of emotional processing in different groups of healthy individuals.