Publications by authors named "Isabel Dziobek"

109 Publications

Distance to the Neutral Face Predicts Arousal Ratings of Dynamic Facial Expressions in Individuals With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Front Psychol 2020 27;11:577494. Epub 2020 Nov 27.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Arousal is one of the dimensions of core affect and frequently used to describe experienced or observed emotional states. While arousal ratings of facial expressions are collected in many studies it is not well understood how arousal is displayed in or interpreted from facial expressions. In the context of socioemotional disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, this poses the question of a differential use of facial information for arousal perception. In this study, we demonstrate how automated face-tracking tools can be used to extract predictors of arousal judgments. We find moderate to strong correlations among all measures of static information on one hand and all measures of dynamic information on the other. Based on these results, we tested two measures, average distance to the neutral face and average facial movement speed, within and between neurotypical individuals ( = 401) and individuals with autism ( = 19). Distance to the neutral face was predictive of arousal in both groups. Lower mean arousal ratings were found for the autistic group, but no difference in correlation of the measures and arousal ratings could be found between groups. Results were replicated in an high autistic traits group. The findings suggest a qualitatively similar perception of arousal for individuals with and without autism. No correlations between valence ratings and any of the measures could be found, emphasizing the specificity of our tested measures. Distance and speed predictors share variability and thus speed should not be discarded as a predictor of arousal ratings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.577494DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7729191PMC
November 2020

Cortical thickness and resting-state cardiac function across the lifespan: A cross-sectional pooled mega-analysis.

Psychophysiology 2020 Oct 10. Epub 2020 Oct 10.

Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

Understanding the association between autonomic nervous system [ANS] function and brain morphology across the lifespan provides important insights into neurovisceral mechanisms underlying health and disease. Resting-state ANS activity, indexed by measures of heart rate [HR] and its variability [HRV] has been associated with brain morphology, particularly cortical thickness [CT]. While findings have been mixed regarding the anatomical distribution and direction of the associations, these inconsistencies may be due to sex and age differences in HR/HRV and CT. Previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes, which impede the assessment of sex differences and aging effects on the association between ANS function and CT. To overcome these limitations, 20 groups worldwide contributed data collected under similar protocols of CT assessment and HR/HRV recording to be pooled in a mega-analysis (N = 1,218 (50.5% female), mean age 36.7 years (range: 12-87)). Findings suggest a decline in HRV as well as CT with increasing age. CT, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex, explained additional variance in HRV, beyond the effects of aging. This pattern of results may suggest that the decline in HRV with increasing age is related to a decline in orbitofrontal CT. These effects were independent of sex and specific to HRV; with no significant association between CT and HR. Greater CT across the adult lifespan may be vital for the maintenance of healthy cardiac regulation via the ANS-or greater cardiac vagal activity as indirectly reflected in HRV may slow brain atrophy. Findings reveal an important association between CT and cardiac parasympathetic activity with implications for healthy aging and longevity that should be studied further in longitudinal research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13688DOI Listing
October 2020

A Multidimensional View on Social and Non-Social Rewards.

Front Psychiatry 2020 19;11:818. Epub 2020 Aug 19.

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom.

Social rewards are a broad and heterogeneous set of stimuli including for instance smiling faces, gestures, or praise. They have been widely investigated in cognitive and social neuroscience as well as psychology. Research often contrasts the neural processing of social rewards with non-social ones, with the aim to demonstrate the privileged and unique nature of social rewards or to examine shared neural processing underlying them. However, such comparisons mostly neglect other important dimensions of rewards that are conflated in those types of rewards: primacy, temporal proximity, duration, familiarity, source, tangibility, naturalness, and magnitude. We identify how commonly used rewards in both social and non-social domains may differ in respect to these dimensions and how their interaction calls for careful consideration of alternative interpretations of observed effects. Additionally, we propose potential solutions on how to adapt the multidimensional view to experimental research. Altogether, these methodological considerations aim to inform and improve future experimental designs in research utilizing rewarding stimuli, especially in the social domain.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00818DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7466643PMC
August 2020

Conditional effects of gaze on automatic imitation: the role of autistic traits.

Sci Rep 2020 09 23;10(1):15512. Epub 2020 Sep 23.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Establishing direct gaze has been shown to enhance the tendency to automatically imitate the other person's actions, an effect that seems to be reduced in autism. Most previous studies, however, used experimental tasks that may have confounded the measurement of automatic imitation with spatial compatibility effects. This calls into question whether gaze cues regulate automatic imitation, or instead affect domain-general processes of response inhibition. Using a task that disentangled imitative from spatial compatibility effects, the current study re-examined the role of autistic traits on the modulation of automatic imitation by direct and averted gaze cues. While our results do not provide evidence for an overall significant influence of gaze on neither automatic imitation nor spatial compatibility, autistic traits were predictive of a reduced inhibition of imitative behaviour following averted gaze. Nonetheless, exploratory analyses suggested that the observed modulation by autistic traits may actually be better explained by the effects of concomitant social anxiety symptoms. In addition, the ethnicity of the imitated agent was identified as another potential modulator of the gaze effects on automatic imitation. Overall, our findings highlight the contextual nature of automatic imitation, but call for a reconsideration of the role of gaze on imitative behaviour.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-72513-6DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7511335PMC
September 2020

Facial mimicry, empathy, and emotion recognition: a meta-analysis of correlations.

Cogn Emot 2021 Feb 13;35(1):150-168. Epub 2020 Sep 13.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Institute of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

A number of prominent theories have linked tendencies to mimick others' facial movements to empathy and facial emotion recognition, but evidence for such links is uneven. We conducted a meta-analysis of correlations of facial mimicry with empathy and facial emotion recognition skills. Other factors were also examined for moderating influence, e.g. facets of empathy measured, facial muscles recorded, and facial emotions being mimicked. Summary effects were estimated with a random-effects model and a meta-regression analysis was used to identify factors moderating these effects. 162 effects from 28 studies were submitted. The summary effect size indicated a significant weak positive relationship between facial mimicry and empathy, but not facial emotion recognition. The moderator analysis revealed that stronger correlations between facial mimicry and empathy were observed for static vs. dynamic facial stimuli, and for implicit vs. explicit instances of facial emotion processing. No differences were seen between facial emotions, facial muscles, emotional and cognitive facets of empathy, or state and trait measures of empathy. The results support the claim that stronger facial mimicry responses are positively related to higher dispositions for empathy, but the weakness and variability of this effect suggest that this relationship is conditional on not-fully understood factors.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2020.1815655DOI Listing
February 2021

Understanding versus feeling the emotions of others: How persistent and recurrent depression affect empathy.

J Psychiatr Res 2020 11 28;130:120-127. Epub 2020 Jul 28.

Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Campus Mitte, Berlin, Germany.

Empathy refers to the ability to understand the emotions of others. It encompasses a cognitive component of decoding a mental state, and an affective component that relates to an emotional response. Deficits in empathy have been associated with social dysfunction in depression. It is further assumed that impairments are aggravated when depression takes a chronic course. Existing evidence in the literature, however, is scarce and heterogeneous. The present study investigated empathy in patients with persistent and recurrent depression as well as in healthy controls (N = 102). Empathy measurements included both self-report (Interpersonal Reactivity Index, IRI) as well as a laboratory task (Multifaceted Empathy Task, MET). A mixed model analyses of covariance, which accounted for differences in executive functioning, found no evidence for impaired cognitive empathy in depression. All three groups performed equally well in understanding mental states. However, both IRI and MET confirmed the hypothesis of significant deficits in affective empathy. Patients reported higher personal distress than controls, and showed lower affective responses towards positive emotions in others. There was no difference between patient groups. Childhood maltreatment was further related to reduced affective empathy. The present results contribute to our understanding of social dysfunction in depression, since loss of emotional reactivity to the feelings of others is considered to reduce the desire to engage in social interaction, thus leading to isolation and aggravation of depression.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.06.023DOI Listing
November 2020

Distinct Functional Connectivity Signatures of Impaired Social Cognition in Multiple Sclerosis.

Front Neurol 2020 25;11:507. Epub 2020 Jun 25.

Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Berlin, Germany.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by impairments in basic cognitive functions such as information processing speed as well as in more complex, higher-order domains such as social cognition. However, as these deficits often co-occur, it has remained challenging to determine whether they have a specific pathological basis or are driven by shared biology. To identify neural signatures of social cognition deficits in MS, data were analyzed from = 29 patients with relapsing-remitting MS and = 29 healthy controls matched for age, sex, and education. We used neuropsychological assessments of information processing speed, attention, learning, working memory, and relevant aspects of social cognition (theory of mind, emotion recognition (ER), empathy) and employed neuroimaging of CNS networks using resting-state functional connectivity. MS patients showed significant deficits in verbal learning and memory, as well as implicit ER. Performance in these domains was uncorrelated. Functional connectivity analysis identified a distinct network characterized by significant associations between poorer ER and lower connectivity of the fusiform gyrus (FFG) with the right lateral occipital cortex, which also showed lower connectivity in patients compared to controls. Moreover, while ER was correlated with MS symptoms such as fatigue and motor/sensory functioning on a behavioral level, FFG connectivity signatures of social cognition deficits showed no overlap with these symptoms. Our analyses identify distinct functional connectivity signatures of social cognition deficits in MS, indicating that these alterations may occur independently from those in other neuropsychological functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2020.00507DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7330009PMC
June 2020

The Influence of Reward on Facial Mimicry: No Evidence for a Significant Effect of Oxytocin.

Front Behav Neurosci 2020 12;14:88. Epub 2020 Jun 12.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Recent findings suggest a role of oxytocin on the tendency to spontaneously mimic the emotional facial expressions of others. Oxytocin-related increases of facial mimicry, however, seem to be dependent on contextual factors. Given previous literature showing that people preferentially mimic emotional expressions of individuals associated with high (vs. low) rewards, we examined whether the reward value of the mimicked agent is one factor influencing the oxytocin effects on facial mimicry. To test this hypothesis, 60 male adults received 24 IU of either intranasal oxytocin or placebo in a double-blind, between-subject experiment. Next, the value of male neutral faces was manipulated using an associative learning task with monetary rewards. After the reward associations were learned, participants watched videos of the same faces displaying happy and angry expressions. Facial reactions to the emotional expressions were measured with electromyography. We found that participants judged as more pleasant the face identities associated with high reward values than with low reward values. However, happy expressions by low rewarding faces were more spontaneously mimicked than high rewarding faces. Contrary to our expectations, we did not find a significant direct effect of intranasal oxytocin on facial mimicry, nor on the reward-driven modulation of mimicry. Our results support the notion that mimicry is a complex process that depends on contextual factors, but failed to provide conclusive evidence of a role of oxytocin on the modulation of facial mimicry.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.00088DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304412PMC
June 2020

Autistic Traits Affect Reward Anticipation but not Reception.

Sci Rep 2020 05 21;10(1):8396. Epub 2020 May 21.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have been linked to aberrant reward processing, but it remains unclear whether it is a general dysfunction or limited to social stimuli, and whether it affects both phases of reward processing, namely anticipation and reception. We used event-related brain potentials and a population-based approach to investigate reward anticipation and reception to socially relevant (i.e., picture of experimenter's face showing approval/disapproval) and monetary rewards in 51 neurotypical individuals with varying levels of autistic traits. Higher autistic traits were associated with enhanced reward anticipation across reward types in the early anticipation phase (triggered by incentive cues), but not in the late anticipation phase (directly before reward reception), as reflected by the CNV component. The P3 component in response to reward reception showed a general increase for monetary outcomes, which was not modulated by autistic traits. These results suggest that higher autistic traits are related to enhanced reward anticipation, but do not modulate reward reception. No interaction between reward types and autistic traits was observed. We propose that the relevance of social rewards had higher reward value than commonly used pictures of strangers, which specifically normalised responses for individuals with high autistic traits.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-65345-xDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7242422PMC
May 2020

Affective states influence emotion perception: evidence for emotional egocentricity.

Psychol Res 2020 Mar 23. Epub 2020 Mar 23.

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099, Berlin, Germany.

Research in social cognition has shown that our own emotional experiences are an important source of information to understand what other people are feeling. The current study investigated whether individuals project their own affective states when reading other's emotional expressions. We used brief autobiographical recall and audiovisual stimuli to induce happy, neutral and sad transient states. After each emotion induction, participants made emotion judgments about ambiguous faces displaying a mixture of happiness and sadness. Using an adaptive psychophysics procedure, we estimated the tendency to perceive the faces as happy under each of the induced affective states. Results demonstrate the occurrence of egocentric projections, such that faces were more likely judged as happy when participants reported being happy as compared to when they were sad. Moreover, the degree of emotional egocentricity was associated with individual differences in perspective-taking, with smaller biases being observed in individuals with higher disposition to take the perspective of others. Our findings extend previous literature on emotional egocentricity by showing that self-projection occurs when we make emotion attributions based on the other's emotional expressions, and supports the notion that perspective-taking tendencies play a role in the ability to understand the other's affective states.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01314-3DOI Listing
March 2020

Towards the automatic detection of social biomarkers in autism spectrum disorder: introducing the simulated interaction task (SIT).

NPJ Digit Med 2020 28;3:25. Epub 2020 Feb 28.

1Department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany.

Social interaction deficits are evident in many psychiatric conditions and specifically in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but hard to assess objectively. We present a digital tool to automatically quantify biomarkers of social interaction deficits: the simulated interaction task (SIT), which entails a standardized 7-min simulated dialog via video and the automated analysis of facial expressions, gaze behavior, and voice characteristics. In a study with 37 adults with ASD without intellectual disability and 43 healthy controls, we show the potential of the tool as a diagnostic instrument and for better description of ASD-associated social phenotypes. Using machine-learning tools, we detected individuals with ASD with an accuracy of 73%, sensitivity of 67%, and specificity of 79%, based on their facial expressions and vocal characteristics alone. Especially reduced social smiling and facial mimicry as well as a higher voice fundamental frequency and harmony-to-noise-ratio were characteristic for individuals with ASD. The time-effective and cost-effective computer-based analysis outperformed a majority vote and performed equal to clinical expert ratings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41746-020-0227-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7048784PMC
February 2020

Effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on empathy and approach motivation in women with borderline personality disorder: a randomized controlled trial.

Transl Psychiatry 2019 12 4;9(1):328. Epub 2019 Dec 4.

Department of Psychology, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by severe interpersonal dysfunction with problems in social cognition, empathy and social approach. Although the neuropeptide oxytocin is known to regulate complex social cognition and behavior in healthy individuals and clinical populations, there is still a lack of evidence for a potential beneficial effect of oxytocin administration on social cognition and social approach in BPD. Fifty-one women with BPD and 51 matched healthy controls were randomized to a double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-subject experimental trial. We administered a single dose of 24 IU oxytocin or placebo intranasally prior to a standardized task measuring affective and cognitive empathy and approach motivation. All participants were free of hormonal contraception and tested in the mid-luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. In the placebo condition, patients with BPD showed reduced cognitive and affective empathy, and less approach behavior motivation than healthy controls. Intranasal oxytocin significantly increased affective empathy and approach motivation in both BPD patients and healthy controls compared to placebo. More importantly, oxytocin administration led to similar scores between BPD and healthy controls. These findings provide the first evidence for a beneficial effect of oxytocin on deficits in affective empathy and approach motivation of BPD. Our results indicate a beneficial effect of a single dose of oxytocin on affective empathy and approach motivation in women with BPD adapting their level of social functioning to healthy controls. Future clinical trials will need to investigate the long-term effects and effectiveness of oxytocin as an add-on treatment for social impairments in BPD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0658-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6892895PMC
December 2019

Social cognition in adolescent females with borderline personality traits.

Psychol Psychother 2020 12 6;93(4):739-753. Epub 2019 Nov 6.

Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt.

Objectives: Social cognitive impairment is considered to be a psychopathological cornerstone in adolescent females with borderline personality disorder. The aim is to compare the social cognitive performance in adolescent females with borderline personality traits and healthy adolescent females, and to assess the social cognitive performance in relation to the severity of borderline personality features.

Design: A case-control study was conducted on 30 adolescent females who fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV of borderline personality traits, compared to 30 matched healthy volunteer adolescent females.

Methods: Borderline Personality Questionnaire (BPQ) was used to rate borderline personality features. Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET) and Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) were applied to assess social cognitive abilities.

Results: The scores of RMET and some domains of MASC showed a highly significant difference between the patient and control groups. Scores of RMET and some domains of MASC showed significant correlation with impulsiveness, emptiness, relationship patterns, and quasi-psychotic states subscales of BPQ.

Conclusions: Adolescent females with borderline personality traits had lower social cognitive performance compared to healthy adolescent females. The intensity of this social cognitive deficit was evident to be related to impulsivity, emptiness, pattern of relationships, and quasi-psychotic states.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/papt.12257DOI Listing
December 2020

Neurobiological mechanisms of social cognition treatment in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder.

Psychol Med 2020 10 25;50(14):2374-2384. Epub 2019 Sep 25.

Cluster of Excellence 'Languages of Emotion', Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin14195, Germany.

Background: The promise of precision medicine for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) hinges on developing neuroscience-informed individualized interventions. Taking an important step in this direction, we investigated neuroplasticity in response to an ecologically-valid, computer-based social-cognitive training (SCOTT).

Methods: In an active control group design, 48 adults with ASD were randomly assigned to a 3-month SCOTT or non-social computer training. Participants completed behavioral tasks, a functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging session before and after the training period.

Results: The SCOTT group showed social-cognitive improvements on close and distant generalization tasks. The improvements scaled with reductions in functional activity and increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions.

Conclusion: In sum, we provide evidence for the sensitivity of neuroscientific methods to reflect training-induced social-cognitive improvements in adults with ASD. These results encourage the use of neuroimaging data to describe and quantify treatment-related changes more broadly.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291719002472DOI Listing
October 2020

Visual and Proprioceptive Influences on Tactile Spatial Processing in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Autism Res 2019 12 11;12(12):1745-1757. Epub 2019 Sep 11.

Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) often exhibit altered representations of the external world. Consistently, when localizing touch, children with ASDs were less influenced than their peers by changes of the stimulated limb's location in external space [Wada et al., Scientific Reports 2015, 4(1), 5985]. However, given the protracted development of an external-spatial dominance in tactile processing in typically developing children, this difference might reflect a developmental delay rather than a set suppression of external space in ASDs. Here, adults with ASDs and matched control-participants completed (a) the tactile temporal order judgment (TOJ) task previously used to test external-spatial representation of touch in children with ASDs and (b) a tactile-visual cross-modal congruency (CC) task which assesses benefits of task-irrelevant visual stimuli on tactile localization in external space. In both experiments, participants localized tactile stimuli to the fingers of each hand, while holding their hands either crossed or uncrossed. Performance differences between hand postures reflect the influence of external-spatial codes. In both groups, tactile TOJ-performance markedly decreased when participants crossed their hands and CC-effects were especially large if the visual stimulus was presented at the same side of external space as the task-relevant touch. The absence of group differences was statistically confirmed using Bayesian statistical modeling: adults with ASDs weighted external-spatial codes comparable to typically developed adults during tactile and visual-tactile spatio-temporal tasks. Thus, atypicalities in the spatial coding of touch for children with ASDs appear to reflect a developmental delay rather than a stable characteristic of ASD. Autism Res 2019, 12: 1745-1757. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: A touched limb's location can be described twofold, with respect to the body (right hand) or the external world (right side). Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reportedly rely less than their peers on the external world. Here, adults with and without ASDs completed two tactile localization tasks. Both groups relied to the same degree on external world locations. This opens the possibility that the tendency to relate touch to the external world is typical in individuals with ASDs but emerges with a delay.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/aur.2202DOI Listing
December 2019

Impaired empathy but no theory of mind deficits in adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Brain Behav 2019 10 2;9(10):e01401. Epub 2019 Sep 2.

Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG), Göttingen, Germany.

Objective: The cognitive capacity to change perspective is referred to as theory of mind (ToM). ToM deficits are detectable in a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Since executive abilities are closely associated with ToM skills, we suspected that due to a common neuropsychological basis, ToM deficits exist in treatment-naïve adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Methods: Performance of treatment-naïve adults with ADHD (N = 30) in tasks assessing executive functions (Trail Making Test, Stroop color-word test, and Test Battery for Attentional Performance), empathy skills (Cambridge Behaviour Scale), and ToM (Movie for Assessment of Social Cognition) was compared with that of a healthy control group (N = 30) matched according to basic demographic variables.

Results: Compared to healthy controls, treatment-naïve adults with ADHD showed deficits in various executive functions and the ability to empathize (all p < .05). However, no performance differences were found with regard to ToM (all n.s.).

Conclusions: Since studies in juveniles with ADHD often show impaired ToM performance, it is conceivable that ToM deficits may become attenuated due to neuronal development in adolescence. Furthermore, our findings imply that ToM impairments, even when present in adult ADHD, appear to be independent of executive deficits and might be explained by comorbid disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1401DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6790334PMC
October 2019

Pupil Dilation Progression Modulates Aberrant Social Cognition in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Res 2019 11 25;12(11):1680-1692. Epub 2019 Jul 25.

Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, University Hospital, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt, Germany.

Progression of pupil dilation (PD) in response to visual stimuli may indicate distinct internal processes. No study has been performed on PD progression during a social cognition task. Here, we describe PD progression during the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (MASC) test in n = 23 adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and n = 24 age, IQ and sex-matched neurotypical controls (NTC). The MASC consists of 43 video sequences depicting human social interactions, each followed by a multiple-choice question concerning characters' mental states. PD progression data were extracted by eye tracking and controlled for fixation behavior. Segmenting PD progression during video sequences by principal component analysis, three sequential PD components were unveiled. In ASD compared with NTC, a distinct PD progression was observed with increased constriction amplitude, increased dilation latency, and increased dilation amplitude that correlated with PD progression components. These components predicted social cognition performance. The first and second PD components correlated positively with MASC behavioral performance in ASD but negatively in NTC. These PD components may be interpreted as indicators of sensory-perceptual processing and attention function. In ASD, aberrant sensory-perceptual processing and attention function could contribute to attenuated social cognition performance. This needs to be tested by additional studies combining the respective cognitive tests and the outlined PD progression analysis. Phasic activity of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system is discussed as putatively shared underlying mechanism. Autism Res2019. © 2019 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: In adolescents with autism, we found an altered pupil dilation during watching scenes of human interactions. Early pupil dilation correlated positively with the number of correct answers to questions about the shown human interactions. Our findings suggest that aberrant sensory processing and attention function may contribute to altered social cognition in autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/aur.2178DOI Listing
November 2019

Developing a Diagnostic Algorithm for the Music-Based Scale for Autism Diagnostics (MUSAD) Assessing Adults with Intellectual Disability.

J Autism Dev Disord 2019 Sep;49(9):3732-3752

Evangelisches Krankenhaus Königin Elisabeth Herzberge, Herzbergstrasse 79, 10365, Berlin, Germany.

Initial studies have presented the Music-based Scale for Autism Diagnostics (MUSAD) as a promising DSM-5-based observational tool to identify autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults with intellectual disability (ID). The current study is the first to address its clinical utility in a new sample of 124 adults with ID (60.5% diagnosed with ASD). The derived diagnostic algorithm differentiated well between individuals with and without ASD (sensitivity 79%, specificity 74%, area under the curve = 0.81). Inter-rater reliability, assessed by the scorings of four independent experts in 22 consensus cases, was excellent (ICC = 0.92). Substantial correlations with scores from other ASD-specific measures indicated convergent validity. The MUSAD yields accurate and reliable scores, supporting comprehensive ASD diagnostics in adults with ID.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04069-yDOI Listing
September 2019

Empathy in pedophilia and sexual offending against children: A multifaceted approach.

J Abnorm Psychol 2019 Jul 2;128(5):453-464. Epub 2019 May 2.

Division of Mind and Brain Research.

Empathy is regarded as dynamic risk factor of child sexual offending. However, empathy research in the context of child sexual abuse suffers from various problems. First, prior studies failed to differentiate between pedophilic and nonpedophilic sexual offenders. Second, there is no distinction made between cognitive and affective empathy. Third, cognitive and affective empathy toward emotional states of specific age groups (children and adults) has not been adequately addressed. The current study tackles these shortcomings investigating offending and nonoffending pedophiles and multiple aspects of empathy using self-reports and objective behavioral measures. Participants included 85 pedophilic men who committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P+CSO), 72 pedophilic men who never committed hands-on child sexual offenses (P-CSO), and 128 nonoffending teleiophilic male controls (TC). Several affective and cognitive aspects of empathy were assessed using the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). Whereas in self-reports (IRI) P+CSO scored lower than TC (P-CSO intermediate) in cognitive perspective-taking abilities, a performance-based measure (MET) revealed evidence for a better differentiation of emotional states in P-CSO as compared with P+CSO (TC intermediate). In addition, P+CSO and P-CSO showed significantly higher affective resonance while observing children (MET), which was paralleled by higher self-reported levels of personal distress in social situations (IRI). The results indicate evidence for higher general affective empathic resonance to children in pedophilic men but superior cognitive empathy abilities in nonoffending pedophiles only, which may act as a protective factor in the prevention of sexual offending. Together, these findings underline the importance of accounting for multiple facets of empathy when targeting pedophilia and child sexual offending. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000412DOI Listing
July 2019

From face to face: the contribution of facial mimicry to cognitive and emotional empathy.

Cogn Emot 2019 12 21;33(8):1672-1686. Epub 2019 Mar 21.

Department of Psychology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin , Berlin , Germany.

Despite advances in the conceptualisation of facial mimicry, its role in the processing of social information is a matter of debate. In the present study, we investigated the relationship between mimicry and cognitive and emotional empathy. To assess mimicry, facial electromyography was recorded for 70 participants while they completed the Multifaceted Empathy Test, which presents complex context-embedded emotional expressions. As predicted, inter-individual differences in emotional and cognitive empathy were associated with the level of facial mimicry. For positive emotions, the intensity of the mimicry response scaled with the level of state emotional empathy. Mimicry was stronger for the emotional empathy task compared to the cognitive empathy task. The specific empathy condition could be successfully detected from facial muscle activity at the level of single individuals using machine learning techniques. These results support the view that mimicry occurs depending on the social context as a tool to affiliate and it is involved in cognitive as well as emotional empathy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2019.1596068DOI Listing
December 2019

[Emotional development, aggression regulation and challenging behavior in individuals with intellectual disbility].

Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2019 Aug 21;87(8):437-443. Epub 2019 Feb 21.

Evangelisches Krankenhaus Königin Elisabeth Herzberge gGmbH, Abteilung für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Psychosomatik.

Objectives: Analysis of the causes of challenging behavior in individuals with intellectual disability (ID).

Methods: The relatedness and the impact of cognitive and emotional functioning on challenging behavior was investigated by correlation and regression analyses in 262 individuals with ID and mental disorders / challenging behavior.

Results: Despite the high correlation between ID and emotional development, cognitive-emotional developmental discrepancies were found in every second patient. The severity of challenging behavior was associated with a lower level of emotional development, especially in the area of "aggression regulation".

Conclusion: The level of emotional development should be ascertained in the context of an assessment of challenging behavior in individuals with ID.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/a-0621-9004DOI Listing
August 2019

Outpatient Psychotherapy for Adults with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Condition: Utilization, Treatment Satisfaction, and Preferred Modifications.

J Autism Dev Disord 2019 Mar;49(3):1154-1168

Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099, Berlin, Germany.

Many adults with autism spectrum condition (ASC) desire outpatient psychotherapy (PT). This study compared reasons for seeking PT, experiences with PT, and modifications preferred with respect to PT of individuals with ASC to non-autistic individuals with depression (MDD). Furthermore, factors predictive for treatment satisfaction were identified in individuals with ASC. A total of 262 adults with ASC without intellectual impairment and 304 non-autistic controls with MDD were surveyed. In this pilot study both groups predominantly sought treatment for depressiveness. A low level of expertise with autism was the main reason for being declined by therapists and a contributing factor to the overall treatment dissatisfaction of patients with ASC. ASC patients desire adjustments such as written communication, and clearly structured sessions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3797-1DOI Listing
March 2019

Characterizing Couple Dysfunction in Borderline Personality Disorder.

J Pers Disord 2020 Apr 4;34(2):181-198. Epub 2018 Sep 4.

Research Cluster Languages of Emotion, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Relationship dysfunction is a key criterion of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Nevertheless, little is known about the characteristics of romantic relationship functioning in BPD. In this study, couples in which the women were diagnosed with BPD (BPD couples) and healthy control couples (HC) were compared in their perceived relationship characteristics (e.g., relationship quality) and interpersonal experience variables (e.g., attachment). The hypothesis was tested that insecure attachment styles account for group differences in relationship characteristics. Variables were measured by self-report. Romantic relationships were appraised as more negative and conflictual by both members of BPD couples compared to HC. The perception of women with BPD was often more negative than that of their male partners, indicating potential biases in BPD patients' relationship evaluation. Insecure attachment styles only partially explained group differences in relationship characteristics, showing that attachment style is one, but not the only predictor of decreased relationship functioning in BPD couples.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2018_32_388DOI Listing
April 2020

Interaction of HPA axis genetics and early life stress shapes emotion recognition in healthy adults.

Psychoneuroendocrinology 2019 01 24;99:28-37. Epub 2018 Aug 24.

Klinik und Hochschulambulanz für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Hindenburgdamm 30, 12203 Berlin, Germany; Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zurich, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland; MSB Medical School Berlin, Calandrellistr. 1-9, 12247 Berlin, Germany.

Background: Early life stress (ELS) affects facial emotion recognition (FER), as well as the underlying brain network. However, there is considerable inter-individual variability in these ELS-caused alterations. As the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is assumed to mediate neural and behavioural sequelae of ELS, the genetic disposition towards HPA axis reactivity might explain differential vulnerabilities.

Methods: An additive genetic profile score (GPS) of HPA axis reactivity was built from 6 SNPs in 3 HPA axis-related genes (FKBP5, CRHR1, NR3C1). We studied two independent samples. As a proof of concept, GPS was tested as a predictor of cortisol increase to a psychosocial challenge (MIST) in a healthy community sample of n = 40. For the main study, a sample of n = 170 completed a video-based FER task and retrospectively reported ELS experiences in the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ).

Results: GPS positively predicted cortisol increase in the stress challenge over and above covariates. CTQ and genetic profile scores interacted to predict facial emotion recognition, such that ELS had a detrimental effect on emotion processing only in individuals with higher GPS. Post-hoc moderation analyses revealed that, while a less stress-responsive genetic profile was protective against ELS effects, individuals carrying a moderate to high GPS were affected by ELS in their ability to infer emotion from facial expressions.

Discussion: These results suggest that a biologically informed genetic profile score can capture the genetic disposition to HPA axis reactivity and moderates the influence of early environmental factors on facial emotion recognition. Further research should investigate the neural mechanisms underlying this moderation. The GPS used here might prove a powerful tool for studying inter-individual differences in vulnerability to early life stress.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.08.030DOI Listing
January 2019

The role of physiological arousal for self-reported emotional empathy.

Auton Neurosci 2018 11 26;214:9-14. Epub 2018 Jul 26.

Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

The capacity to represent the emotional and mental states of others is referred to by the concept of empathy. Empathy further differentiates into an emotional and a cognitive subcomponent, which in turn is known to require a tacit perspective-taking process. However, whether the empathizer by himself needs to enter an affective state as a necessary precondition for emotional empathy remains a matter of debate. If empathy would require a vicarious emotional reaction, specific physiological markers of affective responding should be detectable in the empathizing person. In the present study, we investigated the relationship between self-reported empathy and psychophysiological responses in young, healthy participants. We assessed emotional and cognitive empathy with the Multifaceted Empathy Test on the one hand and the corresponding heart rate and skin conductance responses (SCR), affective startle modulation and heart rate variability on the other. We found a negative relationship between SCR and self-reported emotional empathy: higher SCR to emotional stimuli predicted lower empathy ratings. We conclude that physiological arousal is not necessary and might even diminish empathy for others.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2018.07.002DOI Listing
November 2018

Access to awareness of direct gaze is related to autistic traits.

Psychol Med 2019 04 27;49(6):980-986. Epub 2018 Jun 27.

Visual Perception Laboratory,Department of Psychiatry,Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health,Charitéplatz 1,10117 Berlin,Germany.

Background: The atypical processing of eye contact is a characteristic hallmark of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The severity of these symptoms, however, is thought to lie on a continuum that extends into the typical population. While behavioural evidence shows that differences in social cognitive tasks in typically developed (TD) adults are related to the levels of autistic-like traits, it remains unknown whether such a relation exists for the sensitivity to direct gaze.

Methods: In two experiments, we measured reaction times to detect the faces with direct and averted gaze, suppressed from awareness, i.e. the access to awareness. In experiment 1, we tested N = 19 clinically diagnosed adults with ASD and N = 22 TD matched controls, while in experiment 2, we tested an independent sample of N = 20 TD adults.

Results: In line with the literature, experiment 1 showed preferential processing of direct gaze in the TD group but not in the ASD group. Importantly, we found a linear relationship in both experiments between the levels of autistic traits within the groups of TD participants and their sensitivity to direct gaze: with increasing autistic characteristics, there was a decrease in sensitivity to direct gaze.

Conclusion: These results provide the first evidence that differences in gaze processing and the sensitivity to direct gaze are already present in individuals with subclinical levels of autistic traits. Furthermore, they lend support to the continuum view of the disorder and could potentially help in an earlier diagnosis of individuals at high risk for autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291718001630DOI Listing
April 2019

Corrigendum to "Phenotype continuum between autism and schizophrenia: Evidence from the Movie for the Assessment of the social cognition (MASC)" [Schizophr. Res. 185 (2017) 161-166].

Schizophr Res 2018 03;193:489

INSERM, Laboratoire Physiopathologie des maladies Psychiatriques, Centre de psychiatrie et neurosciences, U894 Paris, France; Université Paris-Descartes, Sorbonne Paris-Cité, Faculté de Médecine Paris-Descartes, Paris, France; Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne, Service Hospitalo-Universitaire, Paris, France; Institut de psychiatrie (GDR 3557), France. Electronic address:

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2017.12.013DOI Listing
March 2018

Greater involvement of action simulation mechanisms in emotional vs cognitive empathy.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2018 Apr;13(4):367-380

Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Empathy is crucial for successful interpersonal interactions, and it is impaired in many psychiatric and neurological disorders. Action-perception matching, or action simulation mechanisms, has been suggested to facilitate empathy by supporting the simulation of perceived experience in others. However, this remains unclear, and the involvement of the action simulation circuit in cognitive empathy (the ability to adopt another's perspective) vs emotional empathy (the capacity to share and react affectively to another's emotional experience) has not been quantitatively compared. Presently, healthy adults completed a classic cognitive empathy task (false belief), an emotional empathy task and an action simulation button-pressing task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Conjunction analyses revealed common recruitment of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), thought to be critical for action-perception matching, during both action simulation and emotional, but not cognitive, empathy. Furthermore, activation was significantly greater in action simulation regions in the left IFG during emotional vs cognitive empathy, and activity in this region was positively correlated with mean feeling ratings during the emotional empathy task. These findings provide evidence for greater involvement of action simulation mechanisms in emotional than cognitive empathy. Thus, the action simulation circuit may be an important target for delineating the pathophysiology of disorders featuring emotional empathy impairments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy013DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928409PMC
April 2018

Social Cognition and Interaction in Chronic Users of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, "Ecstasy").

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 2018 04;21(4):333-344

Experimental and Clinical Pharmacopsychology, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Background: The empathogen 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is the prototypical prosocial club drug inducing emotional openness to others. It has recently been shown that acutely applied 3,4-MDMA in fact enhances emotional empathy and prosocial behavior, while it simultaneously decreases cognitive empathy. However, the long-term effects of 3,4-MDMA use on socio-cognitive functions and social interactions have not been investigated yet. Therefore, we examined emotional and cognitive empathy, social decision-making, and oxytocin plasma levels in chronic 3,4-MDMA users.

Methods: We tested 38 regular but recently abstinent 3,4-MDMA users and 56 3,4-MDMA-naïve controls with the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition, the Multifaceted Empathy Test, and the Distribution Game and the Dictator Game. Drug use was objectively quantified by 6-month hair analyses. Furthermore, oxytocin plasma levels were determined in smaller subgroups (24 3,4-MDMA users, 9 controls).

Results: 3,4-MDMA users showed superior cognitive empathy compared with controls in the Multifaceted Empathy Test (Cohen's d=.39) and in the Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition (d=.50), but they did not differ from controls in emotional empathy. Moreover, 3,4-MDMA users acted less self-serving in the Distribution Game. However, within 3,4-MDMA users, multiple regression analyses showed that higher 3,4-MDMA concentrations in hair were associated with lower cognitive empathy (βMDMA=-.34, t=-2.12, P<.05). Oxytocin plasma concentrations did not significantly differ between both groups.

Conclusions: We conclude that people with high cognitive empathy abilities and pronounced social motivations might be more prone to 3,4-MDMA consumption. In contrast, long-term 3,4-MDMA use might nevertheless have a detrimental effect on cognitive empathy capacity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyx098DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5888715PMC
April 2018

Unconscious avoidance of eye contact in autism spectrum disorder.

Sci Rep 2017 10 17;7(1):13378. Epub 2017 Oct 17.

Visual Perception Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Charitéplatz 1, 10117, Berlin, Germany.

Atypical responses to direct gaze are one of the most characteristic hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The cause and mechanism underlying this phenomenon, however, have remained unknown. Here we investigated whether the atypical responses to eye gaze in autism spectrum disorder is dependent on the conscious perception of others' faces. Face stimuli with direct and averted gaze were rendered invisible by interocular suppression and eye movements were recorded from participants with ASD and an age and sex matched control group. Despite complete unawareness of the stimuli, the two groups differed significantly in their eye movements to the face stimuli. In contrast to the significant positive saccadic index observed in the TD group, indicating an unconscious preference to the face with direct gaze, the ASD group had no such preference towards direct gaze and instead showed a tendency to prefer the face with averted gaze, suggesting an unconscious avoidance of eye contact. These results provide the first evidence that the atypical response to eye contact in ASD is an unconscious and involuntary response. They provide a better understanding of the mechanism of gaze avoidance in autism and might lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-13945-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5645367PMC
October 2017