"My friend is handsome" and "My mother is anxious" are judgments about people we know well, which often also are quite accurate. We use judgments about people to navigate through the social world. But what happens when we get information that goes against these social judgments? Are all judgments resistant to change and how can we investigate this? How are judgments about other people made in our brains? Where are the brain areas that make social judgments? How do we control our social behavior and the social context, and how do social interactions have an impact on us? These are some of the questions that this project tries to answer.
The project is supported by researchers specialized in social neuroscience who study the social brain. In social neuroscience, behavioral experiments and state-of-the art neuroimaging techniques like fMRI or non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS and tDCS) are used to explore which parts of our brains are active during social and cognitive processes. This tells us how we deal with other people, and the underlying mechanisms in our brains. For instance, what mechanisms ensure that we understand our own behavior and that of others in terms of their thoughts, intentions, interests, character traits.
Answers to these questions can provide information on a wide spectrum of topics such as mind reading (how people infer goals and desires by observing them), autism (the lack of understanding of others) and paranoia (seeing too many hidden motives in others). What are the potential effects of brain damage by an accident or a stroke, and what impact this has on the social functioning of the patient.
The most important research questions in this project currently are...
Although enormous progress has recently been made in understanding the importance of the brain in social cognition, the role of the cerebellum has been long ignored. However, recent studies and meta-analyses in our lab during the last 5 years show that the cerebellum plays a critical role in social cognition, especially when we have to infer the mental state of other persons, that is, when we “read” their minds. Recent neuroimaging studies in our lab demonstrated that the cerebellum plays a preferential role when identifying and predicting sequences of social actions, that involve mental state inferences of others. By building up knowledge about social action sequences, social interactions with others become more predictable and smooth, resulting in more enjoyable and effective contact. Recent studies in our lab revealed this sequencing function in understanding and predicting several mental states by others, such as their beliefs, traits and goals.
The cerebellar cognitive-affective syndrome entails several deficits after lesions to the cerebellum, including deficits in social cognition. This syndrome challenges previous views of the cerebellum as being responsible solely for motor functions. Recent studies in the context of this project even suggest that patients with cerebellar lesions are impaired in tasks requiring social cognition. In this project, we want to understand these deficits further among people with autism. The project attempts to gain more insight into social and affective deficits in cerebellar and autistic patients.
Recent research indicates that patients with cerebellar or autistic impairments may suffer from deficiencies in their capacities to detect and generate appropriate social action sequences. We have now developed and validated various tests that diagnose these social action sequence capacities:
If you would like to use one of these tests, please contact Frank.VanOverwalle@vub.ac.be
See a picture with some of our collaborators
Clinical Experimental Research focuses on the experimental study of psychopathology. Our main research topics are cognitive dysfunction in neurodegeneration and affective disorders.
We investigate the role of selective attention and attentional control in implicit learning processes as well as the representations (perceptual or motor) underlying implicit sequence learning. Another line of research focuses on the consolidation of implicit sequence knowledge. We also address the development of explicit knowledge during implicit sequence learning.
In collaboration with Eric Kerckhofs of the Department of Neurological Rehabilitation
Our aim is to develop an integrative empirical model that predicts the development of cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease using a fine-grained analysis of cognition. More particularly, we focus on how disturbances in automaticity and control contribute to cognitive deterioration in Parkinson's disease. Our long-term goal is to identify evidence-based predictors for cognitive rehabilitation based on innovative compensation strategies and neurostimulation (tDCS).
We investigate how repetitive negative thought (RNT) and information processing contribute to affective symptoms. More specifically, we determine to what extent worrying and rumination are related to abnormalities in attentional control and memory.