Main research projects

A glance at the research currently being conducted at the lab

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Empathic Disequilibrium
 

Empathy consists of both emotional and cognitive components. Most studies thus far examined these constructs separately resulting in inconclusive findings regarding the association between empathy and different clinical conditions. To try and better understand this association, we recently started looking at empathy differently, examining the imbalance between emotional and cognitive empathy, a construct we termed empathic disequilibrium. We showed that empathic disequilibrium relates to autistic traits in typical adults. We are continuing to study this concept, including the possible association between empathic disequilibrium and other clinical conditions, its genetic basis, and whether interventions targeting empathic disequilibrium can increase individuals' wellbeing.

The Bio-CEED study
The biological correlates of cognitive and emotional empathy development

In this Israel Science Foundation (ISF) funded study, we are following infants aged 10-18 months to characterize the developmental trajectories of empathy in a typically developing population. We are particularly interested in the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on infants' socio-emotional development and families' coping strategies. In addition, we are investigating oxytocin and cortisol as possible biological correlates of empathy development. The hormones are measured non-evasively in hair.

The E-BEP study.

Empathy - Biology, environment and parenting.

Children exposed to harsh environments are at higher risk for destructive short and long-term effects on physical and psychological well-being, and these effects may be mediated by empathy. In this study, we are investigating the effects of harsh rearing environments on empathy in young children and the biological correlates of these processes, focusing on the role of the hormones oxytocin (social hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone). After COVID-19 struck, we followed up with the families that participated in the study to examine the effects of COVID-19 on families' and children's mental health. We are currently analyzing the data already collected.

EMBRACE Autism.

The role of puberty and sex-hormones in autism symptomology 

Autism affects ~1% of children and is characterized by difficulties in social communication and restrictive interests. Autism is more frequently diagnosed in boys than in girls, and sex hormones such as testosterone have a role in the underlying biology of autism. Puberty marks a period of hormonal change, but its influence on autism is unclear. In this research project, we investigate the longitudinal relationship between pubertal stage and social cognition in autistic and non-autistic youth, and how COVID-19 affected these processes. Findings promise to unveil the effects of puberty on autism.

Utilizing a unique data set collected at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University we are investigating questions relating to risk factors for autism spectrum conditions. The data set contains diverse information collected from adult participants with and without an autism diagnosis.