Recently, graduated lab member, Taylor, presented updates to her senior thesis study titled, Individual Differences in Emotion Recognition. Her study focuses on investigating the relationship between emotion recognition ability (ERA), experiences of traumatic events, and posttraumatic growth (PTG). Past research has linked both PTG and ERA to increased levels of empathy, with PTG also being connected to higher levels of emotional intelligence. Given that there are gaps in the literature regarding direct links between PTG and ERA, and specific types of trauma events, Taylor hypothesized that individuals who experienced higher levels of PTG will be more likely to accurately recognize emotions in others. Additionally, she hypothesized that individuals who have experienced relationship trauma, such as family conflicts or the death of a loved one, will be better at recognizing emotions, specifically, fear in others. In order to test these hypotheses, participants in her study filled out both a trauma checklist and a measure of PTG along with an assessment in emotion recognition ability, which had participants observe images of people and identify what emotion was expressed in the photo.
Overall, the results show that individuals with relationship trauma experience are better at recognizing emotions in others, regardless of growth, indicating that improvements in emotion perception may be dependent on the type of trauma experienced. Those with relationship trauma may also be better at specifically identifying fear in others. The lack of significant results regarding PTG and ERA suggests that the self-report nature of PTG might only reflect surface-level transformation but not indicate deeper cognitive changes in individuals. Taylor aims for her research to help develop a better understanding of the ways that PTG can impact day-to-day communications and individual’s interpretations of them. Amazing work Taylor, we can’t wait to learn more from your study!