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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Life Sciences - Department of Psychology

Clinical Psychology of Social Interaction


The research focus of our group and the Outpatient Clinic for Social Interaction is the better understanding of the bio-psycho-social mechanisms of social interaction and its disorders. We are interested in all cognitive and emotional processes, which underlie social interaction and communication as well as their measurement and facilitation. The phenomena which we study include, among others, the understanding of the mental states of others (i.e., Theory of Mind), empathy, decision making in social contexts, social judgments, emotion and face recognition, and social-emotional competences in individuals with and without impairments in social interaction such as autism, social anxiety, and chronic depression.

Some of the questions we are seeking to answer are: Can empathy be trained in individuals with autism and is there plasticity in the social brain? Is the understanding of my own emotions and those of others mediated by the same neurocognitive mechanisms? Can robots help autistic children to interact socially? How does the brain process social (e.g. smile) and non-social (e.g. money) rewards and which role does social anxiety play? How do socio-emotional competences and the social brain develop in children? Which role does the hormones oxytocin and cortisol play for perspective taking in individuals with autism and social anxiety disorder?

We investigate these questions using a variety of methods such as behavioral experiments and self-reports, eyetracking, structural and functional MRI, EEG, as well as measures of peripheral physiology, such as autonomic activity. A particular emphasis is placed on the development and validation of ecologically valid, i.e., everyday life relevant, social cognition tests and therapies for individuals with autism spectrum conditions and those with other social interaction disorders. This is realized by using, for instance, videos of complex social interactions or involving our subjects in real social encounters.

Here are some of the projects we are currently working on:

  • Reward processing in Autism Spectrum Conditions
  • Mindreading in self and others – the case of autism
  • Development of a robotic platform to support new interaction strategies in children with limited socio-emotional abilities
  • A multicenter randomized controlled trial to assess the effects of CBT group therapy (FASTER) and computer-based social cognition intervention (SCOTT) for adults with autism spectrum disorder
  • Neurocognitive correlates of psychotherapy in autism (ancillary trial)
  • Preparing for the future with social and language competences
  • A prevention study for preschoolers ages four to six years
  • Measuring social processing regarding children in parents and non-parents