Research Roundup

Researchers find that Canadians may be more willing to pay their taxes if they understand how their tax dollars help others

Jordan Hollarsmith and Michael Doane collecting reproductive fronds from a San Diego kelp forest. Photo courtesy of SFU News (Photo: Jordan Hollarsmith)

Written by: Alice Fleerackers, Peak Contributor

Warming waters pose problems for the future of coastal kelp 

From melting ice caps on our poles to forest fires in the Amazon, the impacts of climate change are everywhere. New research by SFU post-doctoral student Jordan Hollarsmith and colleagues reveals that rising temperatures may be affecting life closer to home — right here on BC’s coast. 

Hollarsmith’s study, published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, investigated how increasingly warm, acidic oceans are changing life for giant kelp populations. In a lab experiment, she found that kelp were unable to reproduce in hotter conditions.  

Kelp is a primary source of food and shelter for many ocean species, and the findings have important implications — both ecological and economical.

“Ecologically speaking, kelp habitats up and down the Pacific coast are important as they form habitats for many different species,” says Hollarsmith in an interview for SFU News. “These species are critical not only as food sources for other species, but for various industries including fisheries and even tourism.” 

Bringing some empathy to chatbot conversations — one painting at a time

It’s a familiar experience: You attempt to file a customer complaint, end up speaking with a chatbot, and eventually leave the “conversation” feeling unfulfilled and frustrated — perhaps with more complaints than you started with. 

Until now, artificial intelligence (AI) has been unable to replicate the emotional intelligence that makes human conversation so rewarding. SFU professor Steve DiPaola and his research team are trying to change that. To bring some more empathy and creativity to AI interactions, the researchers have developed a number of new AI systems. Among them is the Empathy-Based Affective Portrait Painter, which literally paints a portrait of each person it interacts with, based on an evaluation of their emotional state. 

“Using our special system, the AI avatar can, through conversation, evaluate the user words, facial expression and voice stress to make an empathetic evaluation — just as a human would be able to, about someone they are talking to,” says DiPaola in an interview with SFU News

The resulting images are not only experimentally fascinating; they’re also visually unique. DiPaola’s emotional portraits have been featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and other museums across the world.   

A psychological solution to Canada’s tax deficit?  

No one likes paying their taxes — especially in Canada, where taxpayers’ efforts to minimize their taxes are contributing to the nation’s $8.7-billion tax deficit

New findings by SFU researchers Emily Thornton, Lara Atkin, and colleagues suggests that there may be a simple way to turn that around: remind people who their taxes are helping.  

To better understand what motivates people to pay (or not pay) their taxes, the team interviewed more than 470,000 adults from over 100 countries about their views on taxation. The results suggest that taxpayers who recognize that their tax dollars will be used to help others are more willing to pay up, as well as more supportive of taxation overall.

The study, which was published in PLOS ONE, has the potential to transform how we approach taxes here in Canada. 

“Some people will . . . go to extreme lengths to avoid paying taxes,” Thornton told SFU News. “Our findings raise an intriguing possibility — would Canadians be more willing to pay their taxes if the CRA better publicized how their tax dollars help others?”