Dr. Yu received his Ph.D. in psychology in 2016 from Peking University, China. His Ph.D. work with Dr. Xiaolin Zhou investigated the neural bases of social emotions (e.g., guilt, gratitude) by developing social interactive tasks that can naturally and repeatedly elicit social emotions in laboratory environments. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Yu joined Dr. Molly Crockett’s lab as a postdoctoral researcher, first at the University of Oxford, where he was awarded a British Academy Newton International Fellowship, and then at Yale University. His postdoctoral research has focused on the neurocomputational mechanisms of moral judgment and decision-making. He joined the faculty at UCSB in 2019. Before turning to the field of psychology, Dr. Yu completed a B.Sc. in physics at Peking University.
Emotions can be thought of as “upheavals of thought” (using philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s words). My lab aims to explain the underlying forces that create these mental hills and valleys, and how they shape the landscape of our moral lives. More concretely, we study neurocognitive mechanisms of social emotions (such as guilt and gratitude), their moral significance, and how they are shaped by culture. In one line of research, we develop life-like interactive tasks that are compatible with lab-based neuroscience methods (e.g., fMRI, eye-tracking). This allows us to elicit and measure social emotions as they naturally occur in social interactions. In another line of research, we investigate the roles of social emotions in moral evaluation, and ask how individuals infer the moral character of an agent based on the emotions the agent displays (or fails to) in a given social encounter (e.g., “Bob visits his sick partner at hospital without feeling sadness or compassion.”). Complementing these experimental approaches, we also apply advanced text-analysis to large-scale corpus data (e.g., online social network and digital libraries) to investigate how the usage of a given emotion word (e.g., shame) is preserved and modified throughout the history and across cultures. This unprecedented approach aims to understand the co-evolution of popular morality and social emotions.