Kuzmanovic, Bojana (2012) Social cognition and nonverbal behavior: lessons from neuroimaging and high-functioning autism. PhD thesis, Universität zu Köln.
People are equipped with sophisticated skills to detect, interpret and react to social stimuli in their environment. The exceptional importance of being able to navigate in social encounters with uncertain meanings and outcomes becomes saliently recognizable in problems of individuals with high functioning autism (HFA) characterized by specific deficits in social communication and interaction. Thus, the studies included into this doctorial thesis investigate the neural processing of social cues in healthy and HFA participants in order to provide a better specification of mechanisms underlying social cognition and to promote a better understanding of autism spectrum disorders. Interestingly, in comparison to verbal communication, the nonverbal communication and the interpretation of animated agents occur phylogenetically and ontogenetically earlier in the human development. Because of this special role of social information that is not transmitted via the semantically defined and syntactically logical language related to a more formal way of thinking, the focus is put on the perception of nonverbal and animated social stimuli and their implications for social psychology. In the present synopsis, five studies are summarized within three topics: 1) duration matters: the neural signature of the social gaze (Study 1); 2) distinct paths to first impressions via verbal and nonverbal information (Studies 2 and 3); and 3) different looks on animacy: mind attribution in high-functioning autism (Studies 4 and 5). The measurement of whole brain neural correlates of cognitive processes was carried out by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The aim of the synopsis is to give an overview of research questions and findings for all studies in order to interrelate the theoretical backgrounds and arising conclusions to each other, while detailed information on methods and statistics is presented in the original articles attached in the appendix.
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