While there are many ongoing projects in the lab, two representative lines of study are outlined below.
Neural mechanisms enabling empathy
As social creatures, human beings interact with each other on a daily basis. We succeed in these complex interactions by identifying others’ actions and inferring their intentions, thoughts and feelings. Failing to do so is extremely costly: individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, for example, have difficulties understanding the intentions, thoughts, and feelings of others, and they experience severe problems with social interactions. Our lab studies empathy through a wide range of conceptual approaches and methods. For example, we examine the different components of empathy and the underlying neural systems, we study deficits in understanding others in clinical populations (including lesion patients and people with autism), we study how well we understand those who are different from us, and we also examine how different emotional states or contexts affect empathy.
Interpersonal distance and implicit social behavior
The space between people, or interpersonal distance, creates and defines the dynamics of social interactions. Interpersonal distance is a salient cue signaling responsiveness and a feeling of being comfortable on the one hand and a feeling of aggressiveness and threat on the other. While we usually don’t think about this distance, as with other implicit social cues, we are very sensitive to any violation of the norm. Using a wide set of tools, our lab studies what personality traits affect these interpersonal preferences, what neural mechanisms are involved in such social behaviors, and how these behaviors are manifested in different clinical populations (social anxiety, autism, behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, orbitofrontal lesion patients).