Professor at Leiden University

CoPAN welcomes new Clinical Research Assistant Katharina Wehebrink

Katharina will work on the research project ‘Decoupled eye signals: interpersonal trust deficits in mental disorders explained?’



In my current position as a clinical research assistant at the Muenster University Hospital, I interact with psychiatric patients on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these conversations can be one-sided, flat and superficial because patients lack trust in others, therefore feel unsafe to express their emotions, and disregard other’s emotional signals. This sad observation made me determined to study these deficits and their cause by means of scientific experimentation and the proposal for the NWO Talent Grant is an important step into that direction. I foresee this research has clinical implications and will narrow the gap between science and clinical practice.


Project summary:

Pivotal to a healthy social life is the ability to trust others. Oftentimes, trust is intuitive and based on facial expression and particularly the look in the eyes. Yet many people with psychiatric disorders avoid making eye contact and consequently refrain from building up trustful relationships.

In the current project, I aim to compare three clinical groups that are most strongly characterised by such deficits: autism spectrum disorders, social anxiety disorders and major depressive disorders. Using a multi-method approach, I strive to unveil the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms by exposing patients to subtle signals from the eyes during live dyadic interactions.

The findings can not only help to explain the clinical deficits in individuals with a psychiatric disorder on a neural basis, but can also provide helpful information for the development of personalised treatment options and remission markers. The clinical aspects of this project are supervised by our close collaborator PD Dr. med. Katja Kölkebeck from the Muenster University Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy from Muenster University.



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