• Dissociating neural signatures of mental state retrodiction and classification based on facial expressions

      Kang, K.; Schneider, D.; Schweinberger, S.R.; Mitchell, Peter (2018-08-22)
      Posed facial expressions of actors have often been used as stimuli to induce mental state inferences, in order to investigate 'Theory of Mind' processes. However, such stimuli make it difficult to determine whether perceivers are using a basic or more elaborated mentalizing strategy. The current study used as stimuli covert recordings of target individuals who viewed various emotional expressions, which caused them to spontaneously mimic these expressions. Perceivers subsequently judged these subtle emotional expressions of the targets: in one condition ('classification') participants were instructed to classify the target's expression (i.e. match it to a sample) and in another condition ('retrodicting') participants were instructed to retrodict (i.e. infer which emotional expression the target was viewing). When instructed to classify, participants showed more prevalent activations in event-related brain potentials (ERPs) at earlier and mid-latency ERP components N170, P200 and P300-600. By contrast, when instructed to retrodict participants showed enhanced late frontal and fronto-temporal ERPs (N800-1000), with more sustained activity over the right than the left hemisphere. These findings reveal different cortical processes involved when retrodicting about a facial expression compared to merely classifying it, despite comparable performance on the behavioral task.
    • How Easy is it to Read the Minds of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

      Sheppard, E.; Pillai, D.; Wong, G.T-L.; Ropar, D.; Mitchell, Peter (2016-04)
      How well can neurotypical adults’ interpret mental states in people with ASD? ‘Targets’ (ASD and neurotypical) reactions to four events were video-recorded then shown to neurotypical participants whose task was to identify which event the target had experienced. In study 1 participants were more successful for neurotypical than ASD targets. In study 2, participants rated ASD targets equally expressive as neurotypical targets for three of the events, while in study 3 participants gave different verbal descriptions of the reactions of ASD and neurotypical targets. It thus seems people with ASD react differently but not less expressively to events. Because neurotypicals are ineffective in interpreting the behaviour of those with ASD, this could contribute to the social difficulties in ASD.
    • Seven- to 11-Year-Olds' Developing Ability to Recognize Natural Facial Expressions of Basic Emotions

      Kang, K.; Anthoney, L.; Mitchell, Peter (2017-09)
      Being able to recognize facial expressions of basic emotions is of great importance to social development. However, we still know surprisingly little about children’s developing ability to interpret emotions that are expressed dynamically, naturally, and subtly, despite real-life expressions having such appearance in the vast majority of cases. The current research employs a new technique of capturing dynamic, subtly expressed natural emotional displays (happy, sad, angry, shocked, and disgusted). Children aged 7, 9, and 11 years (and adults) were systematically able to discriminate each emotional display from alternatives in a five-way choice. Children were most accurate in identifying the expression of happiness and were also relatively accurate in identifying the expression of sadness; they were far less accurate than adults in identifying shocked and disgusted. Children who performed well academically also tended to be the most accurate in recognizing expressions, and this relationship maintained independently of chronological age. Generally, the findings testify to a well-developed ability to recognize very subtle naturally occurring expressions of emotions.