NEW PAPER social decision-making in suicidal behaviour

It’s not quite about gambling…  but congratulations to CGR grad student Ke Zhang for her first paper, a collaboration with our colleagues Dr Kati Szanto and Dr Alex Dombrovski at University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, looking at social decision making in older adults with suicidal behaviour, just out in Behavior Research & Therapy. We use a social context twist on the Ultimatum Game (modified from Claire O’Callaghan’s paper in Brain, 2015), in which unfair offers are paired with some information about the proposer (eg “John is homeless”). The context information was designed to elicit either empathy or hostile reactions. The healthy control group changed their rejection behaviour to both empathy (fewer rejections) and hostile (more rejections) scenarios. Older adults with past suicide attempts were less sensitive to the effect of the empathy scenarios, but showed no differences in their baseline sensitivity to the offer fairness, or their sensitivity to the hostile context information. We interpret this as indicating  blunted empathy as a social/cognitive factor in suicidal behaviour. Many thanks to our Pittsburgh collaborators for the opportunity to work with them on this unusual dataset, and thanks to the participants who were involved.

Zhang K, Clark L, Szanto K, Dombrovski AY. Behavioral empathy failures and suicidal behavior. Behaviour Research and Therapy 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2018.10.019