Bhismadev Chakrabarti is Professor of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Research Director of the Centre for Autism at University of Reading. Bhisma Chakrabarti’s research group at the University of Reading studies empathy and autism using multiple techniques that measure behaviour, genetic differences, autonomic, and brain activity. Bhisma read Chemistry at the University of Delhi and Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge. His doctoral research with Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre focussed on empathy and emotion processing. He was subsequently awarded the Charles and Katharine Darwin Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge. His research on empathy and reward is supported by a New Investigator award from the Medical Research Council UK. In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology.
‘Like’ me: The role of imitation and reward in understanding social cognition and autism
The word ‘like’ presents an interesting case: it can both refer to a rewarding stimulus (e.g. I like chocolate), and a case of imitation (e.g. I will talk like you). These two processes of imitation and reward are intricately linked from very early on in human development. Early interactions between caregiver and infant use reciprocal imitation that strengthens the bond between the two, arguably through increasing their mutual reward value. As adults, we tend to prefer individuals who imitate us more, and, imitate those who we prefer more. This bidirectional link between imitation and reward is the focus of our research. In my talk, I will discuss the behavioural, psychophysiological, and neuroimaging studies that led us to develop this theoretical model linking imitation and reward. I will also discuss emerging evidence that suggests that atypical coupling between imitation and reward might provide a vital clue to understanding some of the key features of autism.