Current research topics
1. Mechanisms of social attention
Enhanced attention towards conspecifics is a key feature of social information processing and presumably underlies all higher order social capabilities in humans. Social signals such as facial expressions or eye gaze already seem to be processed preferentially in infants. Our current research aims at a revealing the neural circuitry and characterizing the behavioral implementation of social attention. Furthermore, we are examining how neuropeptides (e.g., oxytocin and vasopressin) modulate these processes and how they are affected by psychiatric disorders such as social phobia, borderline personality or autism spectrum disorders. We use a multimodal approach involving psychophysical measurements, eye-tracking technology, EEG, fMRI as well as virtual reality simulations to address these questions.
2. Dysfunctions in social information processing
A large number of psychiatric disorders is characterized by deficits in social information processing. We are currently investigating how maladaptive attentional processes might contribute to the development and maintenance of such disorders and how these processes affect social interactions. On the one hand, we examine social anxiety disorders that are accompanied by social withdrawal. On the other hand, we are also interested in socio-affective disorders such as psychopathy that are linked to antisocial behavior and a lack of empathy. We carry out mechanistic studies in healthy participants varying in such traits but we are also involved in several patient studies.
3. Emotional modulation of learning and memory
Decades of research as well as our own experience indicate that emotional memories are particularly vivid and temporally stable. However, this effect seems to be limited to central aspects of emotional events whereas more peripheral details are not remembered equally well. Until now, the causes for this emotional trade-off effect have not been sufficiently revealed. In our own work, we explored the contribution of attentional processes to this effect. Moreover, we are interested in examining the mechanisms of emotional memory with respect to clinical aspects such as posttraumatic stress disorders.
4. Forensic psychophysiology
Since several decades, the polygraph is routinely used for deception detection in more than 50 countries worldwide. This application prompted heated debates between practitioners and researchers regarding issues of applicability, validity and specificity of the observed physiological responses. Our research in this area is twofold. On the one hand, we are interested in the basic cognitive and affective mechanisms of deception as well as their bodily correlates. On the other hand, we aim to estimate the validity of different methods that are used for detecting deceit and concealed knowledge using ecologically valid laboratory experiments. We use a multimodal approach ranging from behavioral experiments to psychophysiological studies relying on measures of autonomic (e.g., respiratory or electrodermal responses) and neural activity (EEG, fMRI).