Nonverbal Emotion Processing Across Communication Channels

Nonverbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, posture, and intonation (tone of voice) – offers a rich source of information about a speaker's intentions and moods. Recognizing and correctly interpreting these cues is important for social competence, but is challenging for people with autism and other developmental disorders that have deficits in nonverbal communication. Intonation and facial expressions represent the most prominent and biologically important nonverbal communication channels. These channels typically overlap in terms of the information they convey. While few studies have looked at the shared and unique brain mechanisms involved in these communication systems, some behavioural research suggests shared underlying mechanisms. Using magnetoencephalography, an imaging technique used to detect electro-magnetic and metabolic shifts occurring in the brain, Valery Sramko is studying both typically developing adults and those with autism spectrum disorder. Sramko is examining the mechanisms and brain areas shared by intonation and facial expression, which are deficient in people with autism, to shed light on nonverbal emotion processing. Her overall aim is to gain a better understanding of the processes and mechanisms involved in nonverbal communication, which could contribute to the development of potential interventions for people with autism and other developmental disorders.