I’m a senior postdoctoral scientist at Ghent University in Belgium and University of New South Wales (UNSW)in Sydney. I’ve also conducted research at Melbourne's Monash University, at Berlin's Humboldt University, and at KU Leuven. I work in social neuroscience, experimental psychology, philosophy of mind and social psychology, with an added interest in sociology.
My thinking focusses mainly on how the neurotypical and autistic brain monitors conflict between one's own and another's worldview, independent of what the difference is about. You may call it sheer disagreement, if you will. I refer to the process in the brain as 'relational mentalizing' (Deschrijver & Palmer, 2020; Deschrijver, 2021). I also publish on automatic imitation, empathy for pain, social touch processing, predictive coding, illusory self superiority biases, and gender backlash in academia.
Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) generously supported my work, via a doctoral as well as a postdoctoral fellowship. I am currently supported by a Ghent University Special Research Fund postdoctoral fellowship. I was awarded a DECRA by the Australian Research Council, too.
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 the idea that we are foremost need to predict their behaviour through ‘mindreading’: inferring others' thoughts based on the way they act, their facial expressions, etc. It has likewise been argued that autistic individuals lack mindreading abilities; the notion that autism is tied to 'mindblindness' has become almost factual in scientific and popular understanding.
Relational mentalizing (Deschrijver & Palmer, 2020; Deschrijver, 2021) brings an alternative for this: social behaviour may primarily be driven by detecting and resolving conflict between own and other’s thinking about the world. For instance, if you are talking about your boss whereas I am pondering about my cat, we don’t find ourselves on the same page. Whenever your brain notices such a social disconnect, it may look for a way to resolve this interpersonal distance. You may adjust your response towards me such that it meets my interests better: perhaps you will decide to talk about your boss' cat.
If the brain's sensitivity to mental conflict guides us to adjust our social responses towards others, our behaviour will likely become more socially flexible. Because neural conflict often evokes negative emotions in the brain (e.g., anger or anxiety), resolving it through this behavior may help forge human relationships. A relative insensitivity to mental conflict in autistic individuals, in contrast, may result in interpersonal rigidity: it may in part explain difficulties to initiate, develop and maintain friend- and partnerships.
We may develop a proclivity to engage with likeminded others to avoid having to resolve mental conflict in the brain: our friends and loved ones often share the same values, attitudes, religious or political views as ourselves. This inclination for mental alignment may be exacerbated within groups that share life perspectives: it may lead us to coalesce in echo chambers online.
Relational mentalizing 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 white women) who are seeking mentorship, are warmly encouraged to get in touch.