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1.  Bridging the Mechanical and the Human Mind: Spontaneous Mimicry of a Physically Present Android 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e99934.
The spontaneous mimicry of others' emotional facial expressions constitutes a rudimentary form of empathy and facilitates social understanding. Here, we show that human participants spontaneously match facial expressions of an android physically present in the room with them. This mimicry occurs even though these participants find the android unsettling and are fully aware that it lacks intentionality. Interestingly, a video of that same android elicits weaker mimicry reactions, occurring only in participants who find the android “humanlike.” These findings suggest that spontaneous mimicry depends on the salience of humanlike features highlighted by face-to-face contact, emphasizing the role of presence in human-robot interaction. Further, the findings suggest that mimicry of androids can dissociate from knowledge of artificiality and experienced emotional unease. These findings have implications for theoretical debates about the mechanisms of imitation. They also inform creation of future robots that effectively build rapport and engagement with their human users.
PMCID: PMC4103778  PMID: 25036365
2.  When mirroring is both simple and “smart”: how mimicry can be embodied, adaptive, and non-representational 
The concept of mirroring has become rather ubiquitous. One of the most fundamental empirical and theoretical debates within research on mirroring concerns the role of mental representations: while some models argue that higher-order representational mechanisms underpin most cases of mirroring, other models argue that they only moderate a primarily non-representational process. As such, even though research on mirroring—along with its neural substrates, including the putative mirror neuron system—has grown tremendously, so too has confusion about what it actually means to “mirror”. Using recent research on spontaneous imitation, we argue that flexible mirroring effects can be fully embodied and dynamic—even in the absence of higher-order mental representations. We propose that mirroring can simply reflect an adaptive integration and utilization of cues obtained from the brain, body, and environment, which is especially evident within the social context. Such a view offers reconciliation among both representational and non-representational frameworks in cognitive neuroscience, which will facilitate revised interpretations of modern (and seemingly divergent) findings on when and how these embodied mirroring responses are employed.
PMCID: PMC4095561  PMID: 25071532
embodiment; imitation; social learning; mimicry; mirror neurons
3.  Modulating Social Behavior with Oxytocin: How does it work? What does it mean? 
Hormones and Behavior  2011;61(3):392-399.
Among its many roles in body and brain, oxytocin influences social behavior. Understanding the precise nature of this influence is crucial, both within the broader theoretical context of neurobiology, social neuroscience and brain evolution, but also within a clinical context of disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia, and autism. Research exploring oxytocin’s role in human social behavior is difficult owing to its release in both body and brain and its interactive effects with other hormones and neuromodulators. Additional difficulties are due to the intricacies of the blood-brain barrier and oxytocin’s instability, which creates measurement issues. Questions concerning how to interpret behavioral results of human experiments manipulating oxytocin are thus made all the more pressing. The current paper discusses several such questions. We highlight unresolved fundamental issues about what exactly happens when oxytocin is administered intranasally, whether such oxytocin does in fact reach appropriate receptors in brain, and whether central or peripheral influences account for the observed behavioral effects. We also highlight the deeper conceptual issue of whether the human data should be narrowly interpreted as implicating a specific role for oxytocin in complex social cognition, such a generosity, trust, or mentalizing, or more broadly interpreted as implicating a lower-level general effect on general states and dispositions, such as anxiety and social motivation. Using several influential studies, we show how seemingly specific, higher-level social-cognitive effects can emerge via a process by which oxytocin’s broad influence is channeled into a specific social behavior in a context of an appropriate social and research setting.
PMCID: PMC3312973  PMID: 22197271
Oxytocin; social cognition; social neuroscience; blood-brain barrier; central effects; peripheral effects; anxiety; trust; generosity; schizophrenia; mentalizing; parsimony
4.  On-line social interactions and executive functions 
A successful social interaction often requires on-line and active construction of an ever-changing mental-model of another person’s beliefs, expectations, emotions, and desires. It also requires the ability to maintain focus, problem-solve, and flexibly pursue goals in a distraction-rich environment, as well as the ability to take-turns and inhibit inappropriate behaviors. Many of these tasks rely on executive functions (EF) – working memory, attention/cognitive control, and inhibition. Executive functioning has long been viewed as relatively static. However, starting with recent reports of successful cognitive interventions, this view is changing and now EFs are seen as much more open to both short- and long-term “training,” “warm-up,” and “exhaustion” effects. Some of the most intriguing evidence suggests that engaging in social interaction enhances performance on standard EF tests. Interestingly, the latest research indicates these EF benefits are selectively conferred by certain on-line, dynamic social interactions, which require participants to mentally engage with another person and actively construct a model of their mind. We review this literature and highlight its connection with evolutionary and cultural theories emphasizing links between intelligence and sociality.
PMCID: PMC3321651  PMID: 22509160
socializing; executive function; on-line social cognition; mental fitness
5.  Happiness cools the glow of familiarity: Psychophysiological evidence that mood modulates the familiarity-affect link 
Psychological science  2010;21(3):321-328.
People often prefer familiar stimuli, presumably because familiarity signals safety. This preference can occur with merely repeated “old” stimuli, but it is most robust with “new” but highly familiar prototypes of a known category (beauty-in-averages effect). However, is familiarity always warm? Tuning accounts of mood hold that positive mood signals a safe environment whereas negative mood signals an unsafe environment. Thus, the value of familiarity should depend on mood. We show that compared to a sad mood, a happy mood eliminates the preference for familiar stimuli, as shown in measures of self-reported liking and physiological measures of affect (EMG indicator of spontaneous smiling). The basic effect of exposure on preference and its modulation by mood were most robust on prototypes (category averages). All this occurs even though prototypes might be more familiar in a happy mood. We conclude that mood changes the hedonic implications of familiarity cues.
PMCID: PMC2948957  PMID: 20424063
Emotions; Memory; Electrophysiology; Preferences; Judgment
6.  Association between Individual Differences in Self-Reported Emotional Resilience and the Affective Perception of Neutral Faces 
Journal of affective disorders  2008;114(1-3):286-293.
Resilience, i.e., the ability to cope with stress and adversity, relies heavily on judging adaptively complex situations. Judging facial emotions is a complex process of daily living that is important for evaluating the affective context of uncertain situations, which could be related to the individual's level of resilience. We used a novel experimental paradigm to test the hypothesis that highly resilient individuals show a judgment bias towards positive emotions.
65 non-treatment seeking subjects completed a forced emotional choice task when presented with neutral faces and faces morphed to display a range of emotional intensities across sadness, fear, and happiness.
Overall, neutral faces were judged more often to be sad or fearful than happy. Furthermore, high compared to low resilient individuals showed a bias towards happiness, particularly when judging neutral faces.
This is a cross-sectional study with a non-clinical sample.
These results support the hypothesis that resilient individuals show a bias towards positive emotions when faced with uncertain emotional expressions. This capacity may contribute to their ability to better cope with certain types of difficult situations, perhaps especially those that are interpersonal in nature.
PMCID: PMC2691748  PMID: 18957273
Emotion perception; Resilience; Facial expressions; Neutral faces

Results 1-6 (6)