Next year April, a new research project starts, investigating emotion processing and trust formation deficits in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The project will run for five years and will host two postdocs, a PhD student and a research assistant. It will partly take place in Germany, in collaboration with PD. Dr. (psychiatrist) Katja Koelkebeck. I am honoured that NWO supports this research again and am really looking forward to the start of it! Please find a brief summary of the project below.
Trust is fundamental to a healthy social life but is severely impaired in patients with ASD and patients with SAD. Especially during interactions with strangers, patients lack trust and, as a consequence, miss out on opportunities that such interactions can bring. When deciding to trust or distrust an unfamiliar person, e.g., a stranger on the train, people typically look the person in the eyes, and rely on certain trustworthiness cues, including emotions expressed in the eyes, face or whole body. Often without being aware of it, they mimic these expressions, which provides further insight into the state of mind of the other. The mimicry of expressions occurs on several levels including the mimicry of facial muscle movements, pupil size, possibly blushing, and body posture, and can influence social decisions. In the current project, patients with ASD and SAD are being compared with matched, healthy controls on a series of implicit emotion tasks and economic trust- and distrust-games. Mimicry patterns as assessed through a range of psychophysiological measures, including facial electromyography (EMG), pupillometry and thermal imaging, and bodily mimicry by measurements of movements on a body sway platform and by means of bodily EMG. Importantly, all mimicry types will be associated with emotion recognition performance and with decisions of trust and distrust, in order to gain important clinical insights into emotion processing in ASD and SAD. In three separate work-packages the associations between emotional mimicry, recognition, and trust, will be disentangled and specific deficits in patients, will be identified. The project primarily intends to build and test new theory, but also has applied relevance for patient care.psychiatrist Dr. Katja Koelkebeck.