Social/Emotion Understanding in Older Adults (60+ Years):
We have found that some older adults are worse at recognising some emotions relative to younger adults. In particular, they have difficulty identifying anger and sadness in facial, bodily and auditory expressions. They also seem worse when identifying which persons look dangerous but not when identifying dangerous situations.
When attempting to identify emotional expressions, younger adults tend to focus on the most informative regions of faces, whereas older adults do not. We think all of these differences can be traced to decline of the “social brain” with age, for instance, the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex.
We also examine other aspects of social understanding such as young and older adults' ability to tell and identify a lie, tell when someone has made a faux pas, or know when to stop talking. More recently, we have been examining gambling behaviour in young and older adults.
Theory of Mind Development in Infants and Children
We are interested in theory of mind development (understanding of beliefs, desires, intentions) from birth to about 4 or 5 years. We are investigating how mothers' language might facilitate children's theory of mind (and their general language development), and how a theory of mind might impact on the child's real life. We also examine infants' theory of mind and whether their success on theory-of-mind tasks can be attributed to sophisticated statistical learning skills.
Theory of Mind Development in Dogs
Dog owners often claim that their dogs are empathic and understand them, for instance, know when they feel sad. We examine dogs' understanding of human emotional expressions. Do dogs know when a human is angry, sad or fearful, and do they respond differently to each emotional expression? If so, do dogs pick up on vocal or facial expressions of emotion on their own? We examine these questions by bringing dogs into our lab and running them through various tasks.
Sullivan, S., Campbell, A., Hutton, S. B., & Ruffman, T. (2017). What's good for the goose is not good for the gander: Age and gender differences in scanning emotion faces. Journals of Gerontology Series B, 72(3), 441-447. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbv033
Redman, K., Ruffman, T., Fitzgerald, P., & Skeaff, S. (2016). Iodine deficiency and the brain: Effects and mechanisms. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition, 56(16), 2695-2713. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.922042
Ruffman, T. (2014). To belief or not belief: Children’s theory of mind. Developmental Review, 34(3), 265-293. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2014.04.001
Campbell, A., Ruffman, T., Murray, J. E., & Glue, P. (2014). Oxytocin improves emotion recognition for older males. Neurobiology of Aging, 35(10), 2246-2248. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.04.021
Miyahara, M., Harada, T., Ruffman, T., Sadato, N., & Iidaka, T. (2013). Functional connectivity between amygdala and facial regions involved in recognition of facial threat. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 8(2), 181-189. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsr085