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Training Social Cognition

Developing an effective training tool for social cognition in autism spectrum conditions

One problem central to individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) is impaired social cognitive functioning. These social impairments encompass basic emotion recognition (reading specific emotions from human faces) and theory of mind deficits (inferring intentions and beliefs), significantly affecting the lives of people with ASC and their families. However, there is a clear lack of intervention tools targeting social cognitive (dys-) functions utilizing lifelike stimuli.

Trying to fill this gap, the current project, in cooperation with the J. W. Goethe University Frankfurt, aimes at developing a computer-based training tool specifically designed to enhance functioning in social cognition. This intervention software is to comprise different training modules of varying complexity using lifelike video-based stimuli (see example for module „Face-Puzzle“ below). Cross-modal emotional information from faces, voices, body language and context will be considered approximating real-life social settings as closely as possible.

The central aim of the current project is to develop an effective training tool. To this end, upon completion of the modules, we plan on performing an intervention program enrolling adolescents and adults diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Behavioral improvements will be assessed at various close and distant generalization levels using standard social cognition tests as well as ratings of social skills in everyday life. Additionally, more objective correlates of improved social cognitive functions will be measured by eye fixation patterns (eye tracker) and brain structure as well as brain function (fMRI).

"Face-Puzzle"

Gesichter

Video sequences of faces (same identity) expressing emotions are cut into upper and lower face parts. The parts are shuffled and then displayed simultaneously. The user is asked to match the pieces by emotional state.