Human social perception, cognition, communication and interaction all require the efficient analysis and representation of person-related information. Faces and voices convey a large variety of socially relevant information including a person’s identity, emotions, gender, age, attractiveness, or focus of attention. We investigate sensory and perceptual mechanisms for processing such complex social stimuli, cognitive processes by which humans then evaluate and utilise these signals to optimise their social actions, and we also study the tight coupling between perception and expression in human interaction that is seen in automatic imitation phenomena. In our experiments we can (1) use naturalistic but precisely controlled person stimuli (e.g. image-, video-, and voice-morphs of the social signal under study), (2) visualize brain activity involved in social perception, cognition and communication via various non-invasive techniques from the cognitive neurosciences (EEG, MEG, fMRI), and (3) quantify facial and vocal behavior non-invasively via computerized video or sound analysis (Kowallik & Schweinberger, 2019). Importantly, while abilities of person perception and social interaction are typically experienced as efficient and effortless, recent research has revealed the existence of substantial individual differences (e.g. Itz et al., 2017; Kaufmann et al., 2013). Crucially, specific alterations emerge in autism (e.g. Schneider et al., 2013, Kuchinke et al., 2011).
Our research in person perception has a multimodal focus, and addresses the perception of faces and voices in particular (Schweinberger et al., 2014, Schweinberger & Burton, 2011; Young et al., 2020). We have demonstrated the brain´s remarkable ability for on-line audiovisual integration of facial and vocal signals during social perception (Schweinberger, 2013), but we also plan to extend our collaborative research to other sensory modalities including social touch (e.g., Schirmer et al., 2021) or olfaction. Further, we showed that mental perspective taking (or “theory of mind”) is highly relevant for adults in implicit circumstances (Schneider et al., 2012) as is often the case in natural social interactions. A unified research approach to person perception, social interaction and theory of mind research has been largely lacking in the past. We seek to integrate these approaches in our present and future research (Schweinberger & Schneider, 2014; Kang et al., 2018). Our aim is to promote a fuller understanding of normal and altered human systems of person perception and social interaction, to help unfreeze social potentials in autism, and to support affected individuals in leading better, more integrated and fulfilled lives.