The neural basis of social cognition

How do we understand what others feel and think? How do we process dynamic social information flexibly modulated by context? Can insights into neural mechanisms of behavioral symptoms in atypical social cognition be informative for precision medicine and for our understanding of the psychological process itself?

We study the biological basis of psychiatric (e.g., autism) and neurological (e.g., focal brain lesions) populations both because it is an important challenge for the individuals (as well as their families) and because it provides an incredible window into the most fundamental social processes.

Ongoing projects investigate emotion/face perception in autism in a large aggregated dataset, gaze differences in autism, task and resting-state networks in autism in deep and densely sampled data across sites, as well as validating a dynamic emotional face task and stimulus set.



Connectivity of the amygdala and the social brain

How is the amygdala functionally connected with the rest of the (social) brain? How do amygdala networks change in atypical social cognition?

The amygdala plays a key role in social behavior in both humans and animals. Differences in function, size, and connectivity of the amygdala have been reported in numerous disorders across development, lifespan, and social functioning. We study amygdala function in close relation to its internal anatomy and external connections to the social brain.

Ongoing projects investigate amygdala volume in infants with and without CHA, connectivity of amygdalar subregions in autism in large public datasets of resting state fMRI data as well as high-quality fMRI data collected at UIowa; connectivity of the amygdala in response to naturalistic movie stimuli.



Reorganization and compensation of the social brain

What can we learn from severe changes to brain structure that lead to comparably minor changes in (social) cognition? How are networks and organization of function re-established in compensation?

To understand the functional connectivity of the social brain, we study reorganization and compensation in rare patient populations. We study individuals who recover from surgical removal of brain tissue (e.g., hemispherectomy, the surgical removal of one cerebral hemisphere, anterior temporal lobe resections; usually to treat severe epilepsy), and individuals born without the corpus callosum (agenesis of the corpus callosum, AgCC). Amazingly, those individuals can often live with surprisingly high levels of functioning. It remains a challenge to explain how this is possible. And we have much to learn from it about the possibilities and limits of brain organization.

Ongoing projects investigate the causal structure of interhemispheric network connectivity in AgCC and (social) brain re-organization after hemispherectomy.