In her research project as an intern at the University of Amsterdam and Muenster University Hospital, Katharina investigated how patients with an anxiety disorder or depression process emotional expressions and whether that impacts on the social decisions patients (versus controls) make.
At the moment, Katharina works as a PhD student in the CoPAN lab as a clinical research assistant at the Muenster University Hospital in Germany under supervision of Dr. Katja Koelkebeck. During her work with patients, she noticed that 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 observation made her determined to study these deficits and their cause by means of scientific experimentation in more detail.
In her research, she will specifically focus on the perception of sublte expressions of emotions and how these can impact on the formation of trust. The ability to trust others is pivotal to social life, e.g. to have positive expectations that sharing emotions with others fosters help and cooperation, not betrayal or exploitation. The assessment of trustworthiness often concerns strangers. Here, trust is intuitive and based on expressions from the face and the eyes. Patients with mental disorders oftentimes focus on their internal world, show deficits in emotion recognition, avoid eye-contact and consequently have difficulties in trusting others. In the project, Katharina aims to compare clinical groups that are most strongly characterised by such deficits: social anxiety disorder (SAD), major depressive disorder (MDD) and potentially autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Using a multi-method approach, she strives to unveil the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms by exposing patients to subtle, naturalistic signals from the eyes during live interactions.