Human beings are social creatures. For our ancestors, social interaction could have been a matter of life or death: the difference between the safety afforded from being part of a group and certain death for being alone in the wilderness. Whilst no longer such a grave affair today, social interaction is still important. We seek to connect with others and do this by navigating social groups with various social interaction “toolkits”.

Social cognition, the psychological processes that affect our ability to understand and interpret social information, could be described as one of such toolkits, and emotion recognition as one of the tools within it. For example, when telling co-workers at the office about our weekend, social cognition would help us understand whether our colleagues are interested what we are saying. We would use emotion recognition to do this by identifying whether they seem bored, amused or excited. Injury to the brain can severely affect a person’s social skills therefore it is important to understand social cognition, as this may help us better treat and support people after a brain injury.

With the support of The Disabilities Trust, researchers at the University of Hull are about to embark on a project to explore whether emotion recognition abilities are, or not, independent from general intellectual ability. This is important because it will add to our understanding of social cognition. Understanding something better enhances our ability to develop effective supports and interventions.

To explore this question, the study will look for two groups of participants: people with moderate to severe acquired brain injury, and those with no history of brain injury or illness affecting the brain.

The researchers believe that emotion recognition ability is different from general intellectual ability, so they expect to find differences between the two groups which could mean that people with a brain injury may be very proficient at solving cognitive problems, like maths or Sudoku, but really struggle to understand if someone is cross or happy about something they said, highlighting the importance of assessing both areas, and delivering interventions that are specific to the needs of each individual.

We will help share the findings from the study by The University of Hull as soon as they are published.