When decoding emotional and social signals in everyday life, we are usually provided with emotional cues from more than one sensory modality, mainly vision and hearing. Although the auditory information is relevant in communicating emotional and social meanings, vision seems to be the most important sensory modality for the extraction of socio-emotional stimulus qualities. Indeed, most information about others’ emotions - ranging from the most basic (i.e., inference of intentions from eye gaze direction) to the most advanced (i.e., understanding others’ personality traits, such as trustworthiness, or mental states through their eyes) - is extracted by looking at their face and body. In light of the above, one would expect early blindness to affect the capacity to make inferences about others’ emotional states and personality traits, given that these inferences have to be based on non-visual information. Most research on this issue comes from qualitative observations within social and educational psychology though, whereas experimental evidence is more scarce.
The present project will merge multidisciplinary, integrated tasks and highly innovative methodological approaches to shed light on the impact of blindness on social cognition capacities at both the functional and neural level. In particular, we will combine solid behavioral paradigms, functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), with which the three principal investigators have a specific and longstanding experience.