PhD studentship success for Crystal Silver

Mechanisms of social agency (BBSRC EASTBIO DTP)

Crystal Silver, currently finishing her final year at Abertay University, has been offered a 4-year BBSRC EASTBIO DTP* PhD studentship on the project “Mechanisms of social agency” (*East of Scotland BioScience Doctoral Training Partnership, theme WorldClass Underpinning Bioscience funded by UKRI BBSRC and the University of Aberdeen). She will be supervised by Bert Timmermans & Rama Chakravarthi.

A project summary can be found here. In short, she will be looking at experience of agency in gaze-based social interaction with humans and avatars, including EEG.

New paper Out

Multi-scale coordination of distinctive movement patterns during embodied interaction between adults with high-functioning autism and neurotypicals.

by Leonardo Zapata–Fonseca, Dobromir Dotov, Ruben Fossión, Tom Froese, Leonhard Schilbach, Kai Vogeley, & Bert Timmermans

What can analysis of movement patterns tell us about disorders of social interaction? Can analysis of coordination patterns in interaction help us detect different task approaches between persons with high functioning autism (HFA) and neurotypical controls? Using dynamic interaction a minimal virtual environment, the current study shows that in spite of ostensibly comparable task performance in a social interaction task, analyses of underlying movement patterns instead reveal a different approach by persons with HFA, who appear less inclined to sustain mutual interaction over time and instead explore the virtual environment more generally.

Abstract: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be understood as a social interaction disorder. This requires researchers to take a “second-person” stance and to use experimental setups based on bidirectional interactions. The present work offers a quantitative description of movement patterns exhibited during computer-mediated real-time sensorimotor interaction in 10 dyads of adult participants, each consisting of one control individual (CTRL) and one individual with high-functioning autism (HFA). We applied time-series analyses to their movements and found two main results. First, multi-scale coordination between participants was present. Second, despite this dyadic alignment and our previous finding that individuals with HFA can be equally sensitive to the other’s presence, individuals’ movements differed in style: in contrast to CTRLs, HFA participants appeared less inclined to sustain mutual interaction and instead explored the virtual environment more generally. This finding is consistent with social motivation deficit accounts of ASD, as well as with hypersensitivity-motivated avoidance of overstimulation. Our research demonstrates the utility of time series analyses for the second-person stance and complements previous work focused on non-dynamical and performance-based variables.

Accepted for publication 21 December 2018, published 11 January 2019, in Frontiers in Psychology, 9:2760. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02760.

Grant success

Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant — Experiencing myself through you: Self-agency in social interaction

With Rama Chakravarthi (, the aim is to gather pilot data for a more extensive project on how we experience our own and others’ agency in social interaction with others and various digital means of communication. The current project’s summary: “This project will systematically investigate self-agency in social interaction. The sense of agency refers to the feeling of ownership of an action and its consequences, and hence is central to everyday life. Surprisingly, most studies on agency have utilised simple actions like button presses leading to a tone, whereas in everyday life most of our actions are interactions with others, wherein, just as we decide to act from our own volition, they decide to react from their own volition. This project seeks to address this lacuna by looking at what difference it makes to our sense of agency to be in a situation where the effect of my action is the other person’s action. In two distinct paradigms across two communicative modalities (hand movements and gaze), people have to make a decision (push a joystick in one direction, or look at one of two objects), and they are told that another person, and sometimes an algorithm, reacts to them, which they see through video. In reality the other person is a confederate and the filmed reactions are carefully timed and manipulated to look more or less social. We then measure in various ways the degree to which people experience self-agency. We expect there to be differences between social and non-social conditions in how objective causality of people’s actions relates to their subjective sense of agency. We thus hope to lay the groundwork for future research into how perceptions of self- and other-agency are intertwined in our daily lives.“ — Carnegie Trust RIG008270

Deadline for EASTBIO project "mechanisms of social agency" approaching

If you want to do a PhD at the SINClab, apply to the competition-funded project on mechanisms of social agency (co-supervised by Rama Chakravarthi - funded by EASTBIO (BBSRC) - DEADLINE 5 December 2018.

Essentially the project seeks to investigate how we experience our self-agency in social interaction, where the effect of my action is an action of the other person. Specifically, we want to see how it differs from feelings of agency related to actions towards inanimate objects, find out how my self-agency is related to the degree to which I perceive the other to be an independent agent with free will, and look at the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this social agency.

Check out the project here:

Timeline: submission deadline 5 December / notification of shortlisting by EASTBIO 14/15 January / interviews in Edinburgh 28 January

Avenues for applying for PhD funding + deadlines

Want to do a PhD at SINClab? 4 options (contact Bert Timmermans for more information):

EASTBIO (BBSRC) project — this project is essentially written, and students put themselves forward — open to UK/EU students — deadline 5 December 2018.

ESRC student-led PhD competition — students write a project with help of their potential supervisor — open to students who’ve spent the last 3 years studying in the UK (if you’ve done Erasmus in year 2: it suffices that you were still registered as student at the UK university where you got your degree) — deadline 11 January 2019 at noon.

Carnegie Trust PhD studentship competition — student writes a project with the help of their potential supervisor — open to students with a degree from a Scottish university — deadline 18 January 2019 (student to submit application for admission to the PhD programme of study @

Aberdeen University School of Psychology studentships — open to UK/EU students (please enquire)

New paper accepted!

Responses improve the accuracy of confidence judgments in memory tasks

by Marta Siedlecka, Zuzanna Skóra, Borysław Paulewicz, Sonia Fijałkowska, Bert Timmermans, & Michał Wierzchoń 

How do we assess what we remember? Previous work on metacognition suggests that confidence judgements are more accurate when given after than before a response to a perceptual task. Here we present two experiments that investigate the influence of decision and response on metacognitive accuracy in a memory task so as to establish what kind of information people use to assess their memory content. Participants were asked to remember lists of words and then to decide which of two target words had previously been presented. In both experiments, participants rated their confidence either after or before the response. However, the experiments differed in the amount of information provided for confidence rating. In Experiment 1, before confidence rating, participants were either presented with both target words and asked to decide between them, or they were only presented with a cue (first letter of the subsequent target words). In Experiment 2, participants were always presented with a target word before confidence rating. The results of both experiments showed that although task accuracy correlated with confidence ratings in both conditions, this relationship was weaker when confidence was assessed before response to a memory task. We argue that metacognitive judgements are influenced by processing information that is not available at the time of primary response. We discuss the implications for theories of confidence and metacognition.

Accepted for publication 8 March 2018 in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition

New paper out!

Sensitivity to social contingency in adults with high-functioning autism during computer-mediated embodied interaction

by Leonardo Zapata–Fonseca, Tom Froese, Leonhard Schilbach, Kai Vogeley, & Bert Timmermans

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be understood as a social interaction disorder. This makes the emerging “second-person approach” to social cognition a more promising framework for studying ASD than classical approaches focusing on mindreading capacities in detached, observer-based arrangements. According to the second-person approach, embodied, perceptual, and embedded or interactive capabilities are also required for understanding others, and these are hypothesized to be compromised in ASD. We therefore recorded the dynamics of real-time sensorimotor interaction in pairs of control participants and participants with High-Functioning Autism (HFA), using the minimalistic human-computer interface paradigm known as “perceptual crossing (PC)”. We investigated whether HFA is associated with impaired detection of social contingency, i.e. a reduced sensitivity to the other’s responsiveness to one’s own behavior. Surprisingly, our analysis reveals that, at least under the conditions of this highly simplified, computer-mediated, embodied form of social interaction, people with HFA perform equally well as controls. This finding supports the increasing use of virtual reality interfaces for helping people with ASD to better compensate their social disabilities. Further dynamical analyses are necessary for a better understanding of the mechanisms that are leading to the somewhat surprising results here obtained.

Accepted for publication 7 February 2018 in Behavioral Sciences

Welcome to new interns Tanya Bhayani & Letizia Caruso

From October 2017 onward, 3rd year students Letizia Caruso and Tanya Bhayani will be working in the SINCLab. Tanya will work on the effect of direct gaze duration on likability and emotional attribution to faces in avatars versus videos and live interaction, whereas Letizia will work on the effect of decision difficulty on subjective stimulus awareness versus metacognitive judgments about one's decision.