My main research interest is how humans can understand each and interact with each other:
How can we feel what someone else is feeling? How can we understand what they are thinking? And how are these processes influenced by who we are and who it is we are trying to understand?
I investigate these processes using neuroimaging, behavioural data and machine learning techniques. Currently, I focus on dyadic interactions, looking at both individual and dyadic parameters.
The quality and reproducibility of my research is as important to me as the content. This is why I strive to make my research as transparent and accessible as possible, preregistering my studies, publishing scripts and data where possible and submitting my papers to Open Access journals.
Much of our social life happens in dyadic interactions. These interactions can vary in their goals and in what measures their "success". In terms of social goals, we often strive to understand each other but also to improve the relationship with each other. The success of these social goals seems to be associated with many individual and dyadic qualities. One important quality is how "in sync" the partners in an interaction are.
If we want to react to another person's emotion, first we need to recognise the emotion. Humans can display a variety of emotions, from simple to complex and mixed emotions, and they are generally quite good at recognising these emotions in other people's faces.
Surprisingly, my research shows that mothers need more information to correctly recognise the information in an unfamiliar child's face than women who do not have children. This could potentially be due to a stronger focus on the emotional reaction to children's faces.
THEORY OF MIND
Theory of mind is the process that allows us to figure out what is going on in someone else's mind: what are they thinking, believing, feeling? It is an inferential process and its result can be incorrect. For example, I can hear you asking about Theory of Mind and deducing that you don't know about it yet, however, you just wanted to test my knowledge.
In my research, I found increased activation during a theory of mind task in both theory of mind and emotion processing areas in mothers compared to women without children.
Empathy is feeling with another person: we observe or imagine someone else feeling an emotion and share this emotion with them. When people are feeling empathy, they feel the same emotion as the person who is the source of their empathy. Additionally, people are aware that the other person is the reason for their emotion. For example, when I am sad because my friend is sad.
To investigate differences in empathy response between mothers and women without children, I have shown them painful and neutral pictures. Mothers showed a stronger activation of empathy areas (bilateral anterior insula) than women without children.
METHODS & SKILLS