Research

Our research has a number of streams looking at:

Communication

The ability to communicate effectively involves more than simply understanding language and having a good vocabulary. Effective communication involves the use of tone of voice, eye gaze, facial expression and body language. It also requires understanding the context in which language occurs so as to make judgements about the knowledge and intentions of others. One again, there are many clinical conditions that disrupt communication skills, even although the person may have good language ability. A major strand of our research is designed to examine how communication can be disrupted in these conditions, and what the underlying causes are.

Emotion

Many clinical disorders lead to problems in the processing of emotions. A major part of our research examines disorders in the ability to recognise and respond to emotions in others. Problems with the perception of emotion can occur in people with acquired brain damage, such as occurs following motor vehicle accidents (traumatic brain injury) but also after stroke, brain tumours or dementia. It can also occur in developmental conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorders and psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia.

Many of these clinical conditions also lead to problems in the regulation of one's own emotion. So, for example, many people with traumatic brain injuries may experience a lack of initiative and problems with low arousal. Alternatively they may become agitated, easily frustrated and prone to anger. This area of emotion regulation is also a major focus for our lab.

Remediation

Our research into understanding how and why disorders in emotion and communication arise leads to important insights into how best these may be remediated. An important arm of our research is directed towards trialling new techniques to remediate emotion perception, emotion regulation, communication, social skills and social anxiety.

Research techniques

We use a range of different research techniques to help address these research areas. Conventional neuropsychological assessment is an important facet to all our research. Because we are interested in how people respond to social information, we use experimental research stimuli, much of which we have developed ourselves to mirror that found in everyday situations. We use photographs, audio recordings, videoed vignettes and pictures to present social information to our research participants. We also have a range of psychophysiological techniques that we use to determine how our participants respond to social stimuli. These include measures of the autonomic nervous system, such as skin conductance and heart rate (which examine measures of arousal and attention), and their concomitant central nervous system analogues, including electroencephalography (which measures the electrical activity of the brain) and functional imaging (which examines the integrity of brain structures).

Overview of our research

You can read an overview of the research activities we have undertaken in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 from here.

EMG techniques are being used to examine emotional responses in people with brain disorders