Lim Zi Ai
Seeing something as green is different from seeing something as red. Seeing something as round is different from seeing something as square. These commonplaces remind us (not that we need reminding) that perceptual experiences have a phenomenology. What's the best way to account for this?
Following years of planning and anticipation, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ AS8 Building was officially opened on Monday, 2 October 2017. Its opening ceremony was attended by the Faculty’s past and present Deans, including Guest-of-Honour Professor Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS College, distinguished donors, faculty members, staff, and students, all of whom have played integral roles in making this ambitious project a reality. A culmination of years of hard work and dedication of many, it is envisioned that the AS8 Building will provide a state-of-the-art home for the Faculty’s Asian Studies Division, to bring teaching and research in the Faculty to new heights and provide new spaces that enhance the vibrancy of student life.
The Opening Ceremony began with a Welcome Address from Professor Robbie Goh, Dean of FASS, who officially welcomed the five Asian Studies departments – Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, Malay Studies, South Asian Studies, and Southeast Asian Studies – to their new home at Block AS8; and the guests to witness the official opening of the building. Highlighting the value of Asian Studies, Professor Goh expressed his wish for the Faculty to advance research frontiers in the dynamic and fast-changing region that we live in.
In his speech that followed, Professor Tan Tai Yong echoed Professor Goh’s sentiments on the growing importance of Asia, which he says correspondingly places the spotlight on knowledge produced in Asia and at FASS, which also houses the Asia Research Institute, the East Asia Institute, and the Institute of South Asian Studies. Professor Tan expressed confidence that the AS8 Building will help to create better synergy and encourage greater collaboration between these departments, facilitating the development of programmes such as the Comparative Asian Studies PhD Programme that inculcates future thought leaders with a thorough understanding of Asian dynamics.
AS8 Mural Wall: Flows and Contours in Tropical Asia
With the speeches concluded, guests were treated to a making-of video of the AS8 Mural Wall, “Flows and Contours in Tropical Asia”. The video opened a window into the minds of the artists, who offered an interpretation into the themes of the artwork. To impress on viewers the historical, geographical, and cultural positioning of Asia, guests learned that the artists worked on the piece with several keywords in mind: trade, travel, exploration, voyage, maps, space, time, sea, land, tropical rainforest, flora, and fauna. The mural, was, however, never fully revealed in the video, as the final artwork was only to be revealed with the drop of the curtain. As the video ended, Professor Goh and Professor Tan, flanked by Prof Brenda Yeoh, A/P Loy Hui Chieh, and the Heads of Departments of the Asian Studies subjects, were invited to strike the gong with their mallets, prompting the curtain drop and marking the official opening of the AS8 building. Taking their cue, the Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble, made up of students, alumni, and faculty of NUS and Yale-NUS, started playing immediately after, treating the guests to a series of refined and gentle tunes characteristic of Javanese Gamelan music.
FASS Student Leadership Award (FSLA) Donor Wall
As the Gamelan Ensemble played in the background, donors were further invited to Level One of the AS8 Building to unveil the FASS Student Leadership Award (FSLA) Donor Wall, which honors donors who have supported the Faculty’s efforts in cultivating all-rounded students. The FSLA was introduced in 2005 to offer recognition to students with proven leadership potential, and reward their dedication to extra-curricular pursuits that have demonstrated impact in the university and beyond. The Donor Wall also features the projects of past FSLA winners on a rotational basis, so that students may seek inspiration for their own initiatives for the benefit of the wider community.
Do people become more generous as they age? Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun and Dr Narun Pornpattananangkul from the Department of Psychology certainly think so, and their latest study examines the reasons for why this might be the case.
In a study published in Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences on 5 April 2017, the researchers find that older adults donate more to strangers than younger adults do, even when their generosity is unlikely to be reciprocated. While both younger and older adults are equally generous to people who are close to them, such as close friends and family, older adults are more generous to whom they are socially distant, such as total strangers. When adapted to the social-discounting framework, this study demonstrates that older adults engage in less social discounting as compared to younger adults, as their level of generosity does not decrease with social distance as quickly as the latter.
Why the altruistic behaviour?
“Greater generosity was observed among senior citizens possibly because as people become older, their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities,” explained Assistant Professor Yu Rongjun, who led the study. In other words, greater generosity in late life may well be an avenue for older adults to seek emotional gratification and a sense of purpose in life.
The researchers further speculate that age-related changes at the neurobiological level may account for the changes in generosity, as this heightened motivation in older adults to contribute to the greater good – or the “ego-transcending” motivation – parallels that of participants in an earlier study who received oxytocin, a hormone related to maternal love and trust. Dr Pornpattananangkul, a research fellow at the Department of Psychology, elaborates, “In this study, we found a similar pattern of an ego-transcending motivation among the older adults, as if the older adults received oxytocin to boost their generosity.”
Moving forward: Studies to Examine Neural Mechanisms Involved in Decision Making
Given the inclination of older adults towards generosity and altruism, Assistant Professor Yu suggests that older adults should be provided with “more opportunities to help others”, as its benefits extend to both society and older adults themselves.
Going ahead, Assistant Professor Yu and his team look forward to using brain-imaging technologies to examine the neural mechanisms that underlie changes in decision-making. Research findings from these studies are immensely valuable, as the insights derived from them may be translated into effective intervention programmes to promote healthy ageing, and may also help tackle age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease, which are often characterised by deficits in decision-making.
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is pleased to share that six research projects led by our Faculty members have been chosen to receive funding from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Established in 2006, the SSRC’s inaugural batch of awardees draws from the Ministry of Education’s $350million drive over the next five years to bolster local research in the humanities and social sciences. The winning proposals were hand-picked from a list of 70 applications for demonstrating “intellectual merit” and “potential impact and contribution to society and economy”, MOE said in a press release.
Three projects led by FASS Faculty Members received Type-A funding, which is valued between S$100,000 to S$1million for up to three years; while the other three received Type-B funding, valued at S$1million to S$10 million over three to five years. These projects share the common themes of social integration, innovation, and human development; and demonstrates the value that the humanities and social sciences can bring to Singapore as we confront the challenges that lie ahead.
Our heartiest congratulations to all of the following awardees:
Projects receiving between $1 million and $10 million
Building Capacity in Singapore's Population: Testing Innovations in Human Development
Professor Jean Yeung
Department of Sociology
Service Productivity and Innovation Research Programme (Spire)
Professor Ivan Png
Department of Economics
Sustainable governance of transboundary environmental commons in Southeast Asia
Professor David Taylor
Department of Geography
Projects receiving between $100,000 and $1 million
Identifying Positive Adaptive Pathways in Low-income families in Singapore
Associate Professor Esther Goh
Department of Social Work
Making Identity Count in Asia: Identity Relations in Singapore and its Neighbourhood
Professor Ted Hopf
Department of Political Science
Population ageing, old age labour and financial decisions in Singapore
Associate Professor Liu Haoming
Department of Economics