I primarily work in the areas of social neuroscience, experimental psychology, philosophy of mind and social psychology.
Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) generously supported my work, first via a doctoral fellowship and then with a postdoctoral one. I am currently supported by a Special Research Fund postdoctoral fellowship of Ghent University. I was awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) postdoctoral fellowship by the Australian Research Council, too.
My thinking focusses mainly on how the brain solves conflict between own and others' interpretation of the world. Disagreement, if you will. I refer to it as 'relational mentalising' (Deschrijver & Palmer, 2020; Deschrijver, in press).
I also publish on topics like automatic imitation, predictive coding in autism, touch processing, the bias of illusory self superiority, gender backlash in academia, agency and empathy for pain.
Some years ago, I started wondering about why we aggregate in networks of likeminded people – and can be hostile against unlikeminded ones. This phenomenon has long been described in sociology, but why isn’t there a theory about the brain that can explain this?
Over the past 40 years, our knowledge of how the brain understands other people has hinged on an idea that we are foremost ‘mindreading’ them, based on the way they act, their facial expressions, etc.
Relational mentalizing theory brings an alternative for this: social behaviour may primarily be driven by navigating conflict between own and other’s thinking. This conflict may be detected through mindreading, but just as well directly via another’s speech.
For instance, if you are talking about your boss whereas I am thinking about my cat, we don’t find ourselves on the same page. The brain may then need to find a way to reach a shared topic of thinking again.
Scholars have argued in the past 40 years that autistic individuals lack mindreading abilities: it has become almost factual in scientific and popular understanding. Yet, social issues in autism may arise instead whenever their brain needs to solve mental conflict, after they understood the other’s thinking first. Autistic people may therefore experience more social ease when interacting with relatively likeminded people.
Mental conflict in the brain may possibly lead us to have a proclivity to engage with likeminded groups, like religious and political ones. If mental conflict in the brain needs resolving, engaging with an individual that holds world views far from ours may be effortful. This can be exacerbated when interacting with groups that hold other life perspectives.
This theory can yield a different perspective on extreme beliefs too. People with conspiracy or unusual religious/political ideas may experience larger amounts of mental conflict just from living together with a moderate majority in society. If mental conflict is a main driver of social behaviour, this may lead them to coalesce in echo chambers online.
Relational mentalising opens up a myriad of potential new avenues for psychological science and beyond. Breaking with the singular focus of social neuroscientists on the brain, I believe the most thorny social-cognitive scientific issues deserve an exceedingly interdisciplinary future approach, in particular by enticing philosophers of mind and social psychologists into the debate.
Achieving this will be my focus for the next decade.
Hoorens, V., Asimakopoulou, K. Deschrijver, E., Antoniszczak, D., Carlhed, C., Collyer, F., Coulson, N.S., Dubbin, L., Faulks, D., Forsyth, R., Goltsi, V., Harslof, I., Larsen, K., Manaras, I., Olczak-Kowalczyk, D., Speed, E., Willis, K., Xenou, T. & Scambler, S. (in press). Comparative Optimism, Self-Superiority, Egocentric Impact Perception and Health Information Seeking: A COVID-19 Study. Psychologica Belgica, IF 2020: 1.16; Q2
Goris, J., Braem, S., Van Herck, S., Deschrijver, E., Wiersema, J.R., Paton, B., Brass, M., & Todd, J. (2022). Faster model updating in autism during early sensory processing. Journal of Neuroscience, JN-RM-3088-20. IF 2020: 6.17, Q1
Deschrijver, E. (2021). Relational mentalizing after any representation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (commentary), 44, e148. IF 2019: 17.33, Q1
Lieberoth, A., Lin, S.-Y., Stöckli, S., Han, H., Kowal, M., Gelpi, R., Chrona, S., Tran, T. P., Jeftić, A., Rasmussen, J., Cakal, H., Milfont, T.L., COVIDiSTRESS global survey consortium (2021). Stress and worry in the 2020 coronavirus pandemic: relationships to trust and compliance with preventive measures across 48 countries in the COVIDiSTRESS global survey. Royal Society Open Science, 8 (2), 200589, IF 2019: 2.51, Q1
Yamada, Y., Ćepulić, DB., Coll-Martín, T. et al., COVIDiSTRESS Global Survey dataset on psychological and behavioural consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak (2021). Nature Scientific Data, 8, 3. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-020-00784-9. IF 2019: 6.77, Q1
Asimakopoulou, K., Hoorens, V., Speed, E., Coulson, N. S., Antoniszczak, D., Collyer, F., Deschrijver, E., Dubbin, L., Faulks, .D., Forsyth, R., Goltsi, R., Harslof, I, Larsen, K., Manaras, I., Olczak-Kowalczyk, D., Willis, K., Xenou, T., Scambler, S. (2020). Comparative optimism about infection and recovery from COVID-19; implications for adherence with lockdown advice. Health Expectations, IF 2019: 2.85, Q1
Deschrijver, E. & Palmer, C. (2020). Reframing Social Cognition: Relational versus representational mentalising. Psychological Bulletin, 146 (11), 941-969. IF 2019: 20.85, Q1
Hoorens, V., Dekkers, G., & Deschrijver, E. (2020). Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching: Student self-affirmation reduces the bias by rendering evaluations of male professors more negative. Sex Roles, 84 (1), 34-48. IF 2018: 2.28, Q1
Cracco, E., Genschow+, O., Bardi+, L., Rigoni+, D., De Coster+, L., Desmet+, C., Deschrijver+, E., Brass, M. (2019). Automatic imitation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 144(5):453-500. IF 2015: 14.75, Q1
Goris, J., Braem, S., Nijhof, A., Rigoni, D., Deschrijver, E., Van De Cruys, S., Wiersema, J. R., & Brass, M. (2018). Early sensory prediciton errors are less adjusted by global context in autism spectrum disorder. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. IF 2019: 5.33, Q1
Vastano, R., Deschrijver, E., Brass, M. (2018). Temporal binding effect in the action observation domain: Evidence from an action-based somatosensory paradigm. Consciousness & Cognition, 60, 1-8. IF 2016: 2.14, Q2
De Coster, L., Wiersema, J. R., Deschrijver, E., & Brass, M. (2017). The effect of being imitated on empathy for pain in adults with high functioning autism: disturbed self-other distinction leads to altered empathic responding. Autism. IF 2015: 3.17, Q1
Van Damme, C., Deschrijver, E., Van Geert, E., Hoorens, V. (2017). When praising yourself insults others: Self-superiority claims provoke aggression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43, 1008-1019. IF 2015: 2.56, Q1
Deschrijver, E. Wiersema, J.R. & Brass, M. (2017). Disentangling neural sources of the motor interference effect in high functioning autism: An EEG-study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-11. IF 2015: 3.49, Q1
Deschrijver, E., Wiersema, J.R. & Brass, M. (2017). Action-based touch observation in adults with high-functioning autism: Can compromised self-other distinction abilities link social and sensory everyday problems? Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12 (2), 273-282. IF 2015: 5.10, Q1
Goris, J., Braem, S., Deschrijver, E., Wiersema, R., & Brass, M. (2017). Autistic traits in the general population do not correlate with a preference for associative information. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 33, 29-38. IF 2015: 2.21, Q2
Deschrijver, E., Wiersema, J.R. & Brass, M. (2017). The influence of action observation on action execution: Dissociating the contribution of action on perception, perception on action, and resolving conflict. Cognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 1-13. IF 2015: 2.88, Q1
Deschrijver, E., Bardi, L., Wiersema, J.R. & Brass, M. (2016). Behavioural measures of implicit theory of mind in adults with high-functioning autism. Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 1-4. IF 2015: 2.37, Q2
Deschrijver, E., Wiersema, J.R. & Brass, M. (2015). The interaction between felt touch and tactile consequences of observed actions: An action-based somatosensory congruency paradigm. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(7), 1162-1172. IF 2015: 5.10, Q1
Fini, C., Committeri, G., Müller, B.C.N., Deschrijver, E., & Brass, M. (2015). How watching Pinocchio movies changes our subjective experience of extrapersonal space. PloS One (3), e0120306. IF 2015: 3.54, Q1
Desmet*, C., Deschrijver*, E., & Brass, M. (2014). How social is error observation? The neural mechanisms underlying the observation of human and machine errors. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9 (4), 427-435. IF 2014: 7.34, Q1
- About relational mentalizing (2020): interviews at EOS Magazine's Psyche&Brain (in Dutch), at UNSW's newsroom, at Ghent University (in Dutch). Articles were released at Knack magazine (in Dutch), and amongst others at neurosciencenews.com and MedicalXpress.com.
- About World Autism Awareness Day 2017 with Belgian Radio 1 (in Dutch)
Doctoral work (2016):
- About how autistic individuals use touch to understand other people (2016): De Morgen (online and printed), Flanders Today, Weliswaar, Schamper. Globally, Indian and American press, and the British Psychological Society. The results were also discussed by well-known Flemish science communicators on the Belgian radio 1 (in Dutch) and I was invited to write a blogpost at University Oxford Press.
Master thesis (2011):
G. A. Miller Award for Outstanding Recent Article in General Psychology, 2021, American Psychological Association (APA; US$1500)
Postdoc Award, 2021, National Association of Research Fellows (NARF) by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC; A$1500)
Early Career Publication Award for Postdocs, 2021, European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP; €1000)
Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), 2021, Australian Research Council (ARC; A$450 000)
Margot Prior ECR award, 2021, Australasian Society for Autism Research (A$2500)
UNSW Women in Mathematics and Science Champion, 2021
Best Research Paper Award in Basic Science - EMCR, 2021, Australasian Society for Mental Health Research (A$1000)
Final shortlist of the International Social Cognition Network (ISCON) 2020 Best Social Cognition Paper Award
COVID-19 project grant, 2020, FWO Research Foundation Flanders (€78 000)
Invited Young Scientist Representative for Flanders at the Lindau Nobel laureate meeting, 2018
Postdoctoral fellow scholarship, 2017, FWO Research Foundation Flanders (€232 000)
Ranked 1st out of around 40 postdoctoral fellowship applications (10 granted), 2017, FWO Research Foundation Flanders
Marie Sklodowska-Curie ‘Seal of Excellence’, 2017, European Commission
Science Communication Year Prize, 2014, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Audience Award for Science Communication (1 of 10 finalists), 2014, EOS magazine
Best Thesis Award (1 of 4 finalists), 2012, Belgian Association for Psychological Sciences (BAPS)
PhD fellow scholarship, 2011, FWO Research Foundation Flanders (€212 500)
Want to know more about relational mentalising,
looking for a collaborative opportunity,
having me as a speaker,
…or just down for a coffee?
Drop me a line.
Early career researchers of any underrepresented background in science (including women) who are seeking mentorship, are warmly encouraged to get in touch.