Bridging Social Psychology with Neuroscience
Tania joint the just emerging field of Social Neuroscience around the turn of the century. This hugely interdisciplinary field aims at understanding how our brains make sense of our daily social environment. How do we know what another person is feeling, thinking or intending to do? How do we process facial expressions and emotions? As an interdisciplinary field, it seeks to understand the neuronal, hormonal and developmental foundations of human sociality and social cognition in healthy people across the lifespan, as well as in patient populations.
How do we understand each other?
Foundation of the Social Brain
How do we understand the thoughts, feelings and actions of other people? Investigating the brain circuitries underlying our capacity for social understanding, we distinguish between a socio-emotional neuronal route sub-serving social emotions such as empathy and compassion on the one hand, and a socio-cognitive route supporting mentalising and perspective-taking abilities on the other hand. These different pathways rely on different neuronal brain networks that in turn support human pro-sociality and cooperation.
How do Children Learn to be Social?
Development of the Social Brain
Successful social interaction is not something that occurs from birth. Capacities that enable us to have a better understanding of others and to act cooperatively and fairly must develop slowly during childhood. As the brains of children are highly plastic, Tania is also interested in the implementation of mental training programs in schools to investigate the plasticity of social skills in the developing brain.
Which social deficits exist in Patients?
Psycho-pathology of the Social Brain
In order to understand the mechanisms that underlie impairments in social behavior, Tania also studies populations with affective and social deficits such as people with autism spectrum disorder, alexithymia, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and depression. The main goal is to better understand the subcomponents that explain the observed social and affective deficits.
How can we Train Social Skills?
Plasticity of the Social Brain
The human brain is malleable. Tania is therefore interested in investigating the trainability of social capacities such as empathy, compassion and perspective-taking and its effect on brain plasticity. Inspired by both meditation techniques from the East and western psychological approaches, she develops mental training programs to increase mindfulness, compassion, mental and physical health as well as pro-social behaviour. To understand the extend of plasticity, she tests both naive participants and meditation experts such as Buddhist monks.