Mentalizing and Compensation (M&C) Project

The M&C Project aims to explore mental state decoding and reasoning, the possibilities of modulating mentalizing performance, the role of compensation and its outcomes on mental health in individuals with various degrees of autistic traits.

Living in complex social structures, humans have evolved a unique, automatic aptitude to attribute mental states (e.g. beliefs, intentions, desires, emotions) to the self and others to explain and predict behaviours, known as mentalizing, or theory of mind. The M&C project aims to scrutinize mental states encoding and reasoning in both autistic and non-autistic individuals, and explore any potential strategies that can modulate mentalizing performance, especially compensation and in-group–out-group bias.

Compensation is not exclusively appeared in autism. Some people may acquire the capacity to mentalize explicitly and therefore circumvent diagnosis through compensatory learning or camouflaging strategies, but still struggle to attribute mental states spontaneously. Individuals who are more likely to compensate may have been excluded from both mentalizing and compensation studies in the past, because they do not meet diagnostic criteria under clinical approaches. However, these compensators are thought to adapt for their mentalizing difficulties at a great cost of their mental health. Therefore, it is important to further scrutinize compensation and locate a balance point between its modulation effect on everyday social difficulties and its cost on mental health for both clinical and non-clinical population.

Facial emotional expressions are important social cues. Unable to reliably recognize subtle differences in facial expressions can lead to misunderstanding of others mental states. An intergroup bias in identifying genuine from posed facial expression has been found in non-autistic individuals. This effect in mental state decoding might also hold in autism, which may be a promising strategy to modulate mentalizing performance.

If you would like to take part in this project, have any questions or would like to discuss the study in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact our project researcher Ruihan Wu.