Antonia brainAntonia Hamilton's lab for Social Cognition






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Current Research

In all our everyday interactions with other people, we watch their movements and rapidly decide how best to respond. Is that child going to knock over the water glass? Should I copy how the teacher moves her pen? Does the girl at the bar like looking at me?

The Hamilton lab aims to uncover the cognitive and brain mechanisms which allow us to make sense of other people's everyday actions and interact appropriately. We also test if these systems are compromised in people with autism.

Social interaction is critical to our everyday lives. A better scientific theory of how we understand and respond to other people will have benefits for many fields, including

  • helping children who struggle with social interaction (e.g. children with autism)
  • building better social robots to interact with people
  • enhancing learning by imitation

Topics we are currently studying include:

Understanding face-to-face social interaction

Using motion capture, it is now possible to record in detail how people move and behave during natural interactions. In a new project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, we will be exploring non-verbal behaviour during conversations, using motion capture and machine learning to understand how people interact in exquisite detail.

Further reading: Pan & Hamilton 2018

Social neuroscience outside the lab

functional near-infrared spectroscopy is an emerging brain imaging method which allows us to record cortical activity while participants walk, talk and engage in social tasks. This opens up new avenues to understand the neural mechanimss of real world social interactions and to conduct research outside traditional lab contexts. For example, we are studying how actors perform on stage in the theatre and how people present themselves in front of an audience. This work is in collaboration with Ilias Tachtsidis and Shimadzu Europe, with funding from UBEL-DTP.

Further reading: Pinti et al 2016.

Control of imitation

hand with eye contact Mimicry is the tendency to unconsciously copy other people's actions. People mimic more in some situations than others, for example, people tend to mimic more when they are with someone they like. We are studying the cognitive and brain systems which control when and why you mimic. We have found that direct eye gaze rapidly enhances mimicry - you are faster to mimic the hand action of the girl on the right when she is looking at you. Brain imaging shows this effect is implemented in medial prefrontal cortex, which is an area linked to many other social functions.

Further reading: Wang et al 2011

Motivation and emotion

People's behaviour depends on their motivational state, but quantifying motivation has not been easy. We are developing new tasks to explore motivation and emotion, in relation to actions and theory of mind.

Further reading: Dubey et al 2015

Taking perspectives

Imagining what another person can see and considering what that person believes are critical components of 'theory of mind'. We are using traditional experiments, virtual reality and brain imaging to understand the relationship theory of mind, perspective taking and action observation.

Further reading: Pearson et al 2015, Pearson et al, 2013

Social interaction in autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting social and communication skills. However, it is not yet known which aspects of social interaction are difficult for people with autism or why. We are currently using behavioural and neuroimaging methods to explore these ideas.

Further reading: Marsh & Hamilton 2011, Forbes et al 2016

Data sharing

In accordance with funding guidelines, published anonymised data collected in the Hamilton lab is available to other researchers for secondary analysis. Available datasets are described in our publications. To access data, please email me with details of the dataset you want and why. Access to some data (e.g. video) may be limited by issues of partipant confidentiality.

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, Alexandra House, 17 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR
a.hamilton - at -