Hongbo Yu

Hongbo Yu

Assistant Professor

Research Area

Social Psychology


Dr. Yu received his Ph.D. in psychology in 2016 and his B.S. in physics in 2010 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.


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.

Selected Publications

Yu, H., Siegel, J.Z., & Crockett, M.J. (2019). Modeling Morality in 3‐D: Decision‐Making, Judgment, and Inference. Topics in Cognitive Science, 11(2), 409-432.

Yu, H*., Gao, X*., Zhou, Y., & Zhou, X. (2018). Decomposing gratitude: representation and integration of cognitive antecedents of gratitude in the brain. The Journal of Neuroscience, 38(21), 4886-4898 [* equal contribution]

Gao, X*., Yu, H*., Sáez, I., Blue, P.R., Zhu, L., Hsu, M., & Zhou, X. (2018). Distinguishing neural correlates of context-dependent advantageous- and disadvantageous-inequity aversion. PNAS, 115 (33) E7680-E7689.

Yu, H*., Cai, Q*., Shen, B., Gao, X., & Zhou, X. (2017). Neural substrates and social consequences of interpersonal gratitude: Intention matters. Emotion, 17(4), 589 - 601.

Yu, H., Duan, Y., & Zhou, X. (2017). Guilt in the eyes: Eye movement and physiological evidence for guilt-induced social avoidance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 71, 128 - 137.

Zhang, Y*., Yu, H*., Yin, Y., & Zhou, X. (2016). Intention modulates the effect of punishment threat in norm enforcement via the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(35), 9217-9226

Yu, H., Li, J., & Zhou, X. (2015). Neural substrates of intention–consequence integration and its impact on reactive punishment in interpersonal transgression. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35(12), 4917-4925.

Yu, H., Shen, B., Yin, Y., Blue, P.R., & Chang, L.J. (2015). Dissociating Guilt-and Inequity-Aversion in Cooperation and Norm Compliance. The Journal of Neuroscience, 35(24), 8973-8975.

Beyens, U*., Yu, H*., Han, T*., Zhang, L., & Zhou, X. (2015). The strength of a remorseful heart: psychological and neural basis of how apology emolliates reactive aggression and promotes forgiveness. Frontiers in Psychology. 6: 1611.

Yu, H., Hu, J., Hu, L., & Zhou, X. (2014). The voice of conscience: Neural bases of interpersonal guilt and compensation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(8), 1150-1158.

Wu, Y*., Yu, H*., Yu, R., Zhou, Z., Zhang, G., Jiang, Y., & Zhou, X. (2014). Neural basis of increased costly norm enforcement under adversity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(12): 1862-1871.