Fakultät für Psychologie und Pädagogik
(Room 1213, "Lesehalle")
The workshop begins on March 28th at 9:30 am and ends on March 29th at 6:15 pm (detailed schedule follows)
At the workshop we review and discuss novel design and analysis approaches to study Theory of Mind, empathy, and related social behaviors in actual social interaction. The discussion will range from design and procedural set ups, over employed study equipment to stimulus presentation. Recent philosophical considerations on what it is that we actually intend to measure complement the program. The topics will range from –but will not be limited to– recent developments in measures and analysis methods such as hyper-scanning, item-wise MRI analysis, implicit (behavioral) measures or experience sampling methods. We aim to reveal potential avenues to address the technical challenges associated with studying social interactions in real time.
Empathy allows us to understand and share one another’s emotional experiences. Despite the developments in the study of empathy, the vast majority of empathy paradigms focus only on passive observers, carrying out artificial empathy tasks in socially deprived environments. This approach significantly limits our understanding of interactive aspects of empathy and how empathic responses affect the distress of the sufferer. We recently proposed a brain model that characterizes how empathic reactions alleviate the distress of a target. Specifically, in a dual-EEG study we show that hand-holding during pain administration increases brain-to-brain coupling in the alpha-mu band in a network that mainly involves the central regions of the pain target and the right hemisphere of the empathizer. Moreover, brain-to-brain coupling in this network was found to correlate with analgesia magnitude, indicating that brain-to-brain coupling may contribute to touch-related analgesia. Similarly, using a serial dual-fMRI approach we show a shared activity between the target and the empathizer during hand-holding. Employing this dual-brain approach may provide a highly controlled setting in which to study the neuroanatomical bases of real-life empathy and its contribution to distress regulation.
What do we do or have when we understand others? And how should we investigate this process of understanding? In this talk I will argue that understanding others is not what it is commonly taken to be. I will argue that the notion of intention is important to social cognition, but in a way that is quite different from what is commonly assumed. Intentions are not brain states that cause overt behavior. Rather, intentions are social constructs, and denote a collective way of explaining behavior. This has important consequences for social cognition. First, in social interaction intentions need not be inferred in order to explain behavior, as they were not a cause of the observed behavior to begin with. Theory theory and simulation theory are both mistaken when they are interpreted as a mechanism that allows us to infer the intention that caused the behavior we observed. But that does not mean that the notion of intention has no role in social cognition. In a social community we learn what an accepted explanation of behavior is—commonly in terms of intentions—which makes the notion of intention a social construct. This opens up new research lines: How do we acquire these explanatory skills? When do we need such explanations? Will these explanations have an impact on other action-observation processes? In the final part of my talk I will explore ways to address these questions.
Social neuroscience focuses on the neurobiology that underlies social encounters, but has found it difficult to study social interactions in those contexts, where they really matter, i.e. everyday life. By developing and using novel tools which allow for the study of reciprocity in social interactions, such as gaze-contingent tasks, and which allow for quantitative phenotyping of freely forming, dyadic social interactions, such as non-invasive fully body motion tracking, we provide new insights into the behavioral mechanisms of social exchange and demonstrate how this may be relevant in order to understand social impairments in various psychiatric disorders.
The ultimate goal of almost all psychological research is to understand human behavior in real life. Yet, experiments require highly controlled experimental conditions for scientific reasoning that have often little resemblance with real life. One way to overcome this impasse is by means of virtual reality (VR). VR allows the creation of experimental setups in which participants can behave more naturally. While these additional degrees of freedom for the participants’ behavior lead to a more ecologically valid experiment, they give rise to new challenges. I will report about our experiences of using VR to examine social cognitive processes, which include the advantages and disadvantages of this technology. I will highlight that the use VR technologies in psychological research needs to be accompanied by appropriate psychophysical methods (e.g. adaptation) and analysis that allow firm scientific reasoning. The presented studies will focus on examining cognitive representations supporting social interactions.
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Integration of Social Cognitive and Affective Processes
sponsered by the German Research Foundation: