Ahmad Abu-Akel

Ahmad Abu-Akel
University of Haifa | haifa · Department of Psychology

PhD

About

102
Publications
48,671
Reads
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2,999
Citations
Introduction
My research explores the interface between autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders using behavioral (social cognition and attention), neuroimaging (fMRI and TMS), and genetic (Copy Number Variation) paradigms. This relationship is centrally explored within the framework of the Diametric Model of autism and schizophrenia.
Additional affiliations
September 2018 - June 2022
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Position
  • Chargé de cours
September 2016 - May 2022
University of Lausanne
Position
  • Research Fellow
January 2013 - August 2016
University of Birmingham
Position
  • Doctoral Researcher

Publications

Publications (102)
Article
Autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders are conceptualized as distinct conditions. They have also been characterized as diametrical conditions that reflect evolutionary-genetic tradeoffs. An analysis conceptualizing such tradeoffs showed that genotypic variations of the single-nucleotide polymorphism rs850807—implicated in Prader–Willi syndrome...
Article
Objective: Autism and schizophrenia are characterized by impairments in social cognition and functioning. They can co-occur at both the trait/symptom and diagnostic levels. We investigated the concurrent effect of autism and psychotic symptom severity on social cognition and functioning in schizophrenia. Method: Individuals with schizophrenia or sc...
Article
Full-text available
Introduction: Accumulating evidence for the co-occurrence autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) at both the diagnostic and symptom levels raises important questions about the nature of their association and the effect of their co-occurrence on the individual's phenotype and functional outcome. Research comparing...
Article
Background Impairments in daily functioning characterize both autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Research has shown that a subsample of schizophrenia patients presents autistic symptoms, leading to the hypothesis that their co-occurrence would be associated with a ‘double dose’ of deficit. A growing body of research examined this hypothesi...
Article
Full-text available
Functional impairment is a core feature of both autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. While diagnostically independent, they can co-occur in the same individual at both the trait and diagnostic levels. The effect of such co-occurrence is hypothesized to worsen functional impairment. The diametric model, however, suggests that the disorders a...
Preprint
There is a widespread belief that the tone of US political language has become more negative recently, in particular when Donald Trump entered politics. At the same time, there is disagreement as to whether Trump changed or merely continued previous trends. To date, data-driven evidence regarding these questions is scarce, partly due to the difficu...
Article
Full-text available
Human behavior is largely based on our understanding and interpretation of the feelings and actions of others. In order to function in and adapt to this social world, we rely on social cognitive processes such as empathy and perspective taking. Empathy is now commonly characterised as consisting of cognitive and affective components. Cognitive empa...
Article
Full-text available
Dynamics of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are hypothesized to play a role in the emergence of interpersonal violence. In the present study, we examined continuous activities of the inhibitory parasympathetic pathway of the ANS through the root mean square of successive differences between normal heartbeats (RMSSD) in 22 male offenders who comm...
Preprint
Full-text available
Dynamics of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are hypothesized to play a role in the emergence of interpersonal violence. In the present study, we examined continuous activities of the inhibitory parasympathetic pathway of the ANS through the root mean square of successive differences between normal heartbeats (RMSSD) in 22 male offenders who comm...
Article
Full-text available
Background: Political violence and constraints on liberty of movement can have conse- quences for health and well-being but affect individuals differently. Objective: In three Palestinian samples, we sought to examine the relationship between key environmental and psychological factors and general and mental health, including the previously unexplo...
Article
Objectives Functional disruption is a main feature of schizophrenia and still represents a major treatment challenge. A more in-depth identification of functional predictors is crucial for the creation of individualized rehabilitation treatments, which can translate into better functional outcomes. In this study, we aimed at pinpointing specific do...
Article
Full-text available
Psychopathic tendencies are associated with difficulties in affective theory of mind (ToM), that is, in recognizing others affec-tive mental states. In clinical and non-clinical adult samples, it has been shown that where psychopathic tendencies co-occur with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, the impairing effects of psychopathic tendencies on ToM...
Article
Criminal behavior in schizophrenia has been associated with a number of risk factors including symptoms of schizophrenia, co-occurring personality disorders (PDs), substance abuse, intellectual and cognitive dysfunctions, history of violence, and a number of sociodemographic variables. However, the relative importance and predictive power of these...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Motivated by the goal of designing interventions for softening polarized opinions on the Web, and building on results from psychology, we hypothesized that people would be moved more easily towards opposing opinions when the latter were voiced by a celebrity they like, rather than by a celebrity they dislike. We tested this hypothesis in a survey-b...
Preprint
Motivated by the goal of designing interventions for softening polarized opinions on the Web, and building on results from psychology, we hypothesized that people would be moved more easily towards opposing opinions when the latter were voiced by a celebrity they like, rather than by a celebrity they dislike. We tested this hypothesis in a survey-b...
Article
Background The overlap of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and psychosis or schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) has exposed problems central to conceptualising and understanding co-morbidity in psychiatric disorders. Methods In the present study, we demonstrate that a deep phenotyping approach aids clarification of both overlapping and diametrica...
Article
Full-text available
Purpose: Since lack of empathy is an important indicator of violent behaviors, researchers need consistent and valid measures. This study evaluated the practical significance of a potential physiological correlate of empathy compared to a traditional self-report questionnaire in 18 male violent offenders and 21 general population controls. Methods:...
Article
Full-text available
It is urgent to understand how to effectively communicate public health messages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous work has focused on how to formulate messages in terms of style and content, rather than on who should send them. In particular, little is known about the impact of spokesperson selection on message propagation during times of cri...
Article
Full-text available
‘Hyperfocus’ is a phenomenon that reflects one’s complete absorption in a task, to a point where a person appears to completely ignore or ‘tune out’ everything else. Hyperfocus is most often mentioned in the context of autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but research into its effect on cognitive and neural functioni...
Article
Full-text available
Effective communication during a pandemic, such as the current COVID-19 crisis, can save lives. At the present time, social and physical distancing measures are the lead strategy in combating the spread of COVID-19. In this study, a survey was administered to 705 adults from Switzerland about their support and practice of social distancing measures...
Article
Divergent thinking, the ability to generate multiple ideas from different perspectives, is considered a central component of the creative thinking process. While context, personality traits, and cognitive control abilities have individually been shown to have large effects on divergent thinking, their interrelationship is yet to be elucidated. In 8...
Article
Full-text available
Many of us “see red,” “feel blue,” or “turn green with envy.” Are such color-emotion associations fundamental to our shared cognitive architecture, or are they cultural creations learned through our languages and traditions? To answer these questions, we tested emotional associations of colors in 4,598 participants from 30 nations speaking 22 nativ...
Preprint
Full-text available
It is urgent to understand how to most effectively communicate public health messages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, the focus has been on how to formulate the message, rather than on who should send it, and particularly little is known about the latter during times of crisis. We report on the effectiveness of different public figures at...
Article
Full-text available
Background Accumulating evidence for the co-occurrence Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizotypal personality disorder (SPD) at both the diagnostic and symptom/trait levels raises important questions about the nature of their association and the effect of their co-occurrence on the individual’s phenotype and functional outcome. It has been reco...
Article
Full-text available
The commonly used paradigm to investigate Dennet's 'intentional stance' compares neural activation when participants compete with a human versus a computer. This paradigm confounds whether the opponent is natural or artificial and whether it is intentional or an automaton. This functional magnetic resonance imaging study is, to our knowledge, the f...
Preprint
Full-text available
Effective communication during the COVID-19 pandemic can save lives. At the present time, social and physical distancing measures are the lead strategy in combatting the spread of COVID-19. In this pilot, survey-based study, we obtained responses from 705 adults in Switzerland about their support and practice of social distancing measures to examin...
Article
Oxytocin (OT) has been implicated in various aspects of social behaviors. During the past decades there has been a surge of interest in the therapeutic potential of OT in psychiatric disorders, especially those characterized by social deficits, which the available therapeutic agents, cannot fully target. This systematic review and meta-analysis exa...
Article
Full-text available
Schizotypal disorder lies in the schizophrenia spectrum and is widely studied in adult populations. Schizotypal disorder in children (SDc) is less well described. This study examined brain morphological and functional connectivity abnormalities in SDc (12 SDc and 9 typically developing children), focusing on the default mode and executive control b...
Article
Background There is increasing interest in the clinical and aetiological overlap between autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia spectrum disorders, reported to co-occur at both diagnostic and trait levels. Individually, sub-clinical autistic and psychotic traits are associated with poor clinical outcomes, including increased depressive symptom...
Article
Across cultures, people associate colours with emotions. Here, we test the hypothesis that one driver of this cross-modal correspondence is the physical environment we live in. We focus on a prime example – the association of yellow with joy, – which conceivably arises because yellow is reminiscent of life-sustaining sunshine and pleasant weather....
Preprint
Full-text available
This White Paper, by Empathy for Peace (www.empathy-for-peace.org), discusses some key factors that contribute to empathy in order to better understand its important role in conflict transformation and peace building.
Article
Continued human and animal research has strengthened evidence for aberrant excitatory–inhibitory neural processes underlying autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorder psychopathology, particularly psychosocial functioning, in clinical and nonclinical populations. We investigated the extent to which autistic traits and schizotypal dimensions were m...
Poster
Full-text available
While symbolic meanings of colour might be the making of cultural customs (e.g., white vs. red worn at weddings in Western world vs. China/Japan), little is known whether emotion associations with colour are also culture-specific, or rather universal. We performed a comprehensive, systematic survey on conceptual colour-affect associations in 30 cou...
Article
Full-text available
Background A considerable amount of research has discussed whether autism and psychiatric/neurodevelopmental conditions in general are best described categorically or dimensionally. In recent years, finite mixture models have been increasingly applied to mixed populations of autistic and non-autistic individuals to answer this question. However, th...
Article
The underlying mechanisms of autism and schizophrenia are poorly understood, partly due to a lack of di- mension-specific research. Aberrant excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission are implicated in both condi- tions, particularly in social dysfunction. This study investigates the extent to which the degree of autistic ten- dency and psychosis-...
Article
Full-text available
Adolescent psychopathic tendencies are associated with phenotypic increases in proactive aggression. However, the extent to which an understanding of others’ affective mental states, or affective theory of mind (ToM), contributes to proactive aggression remains unknown. We examined how performance on a well-known test of affective ToM, based on cro...
Article
Simulation theory and theory theory are interaction accounts of theory of mind that have been neurocentrically characterized. A hybrid of these theories approximates the interaction theory of social cognition, and can be described in an indexical-symbolic processing framework.
Article
Full-text available
Paranormal beliefs (PBs), such as the belief in the soul, or in extrasensory perception, are common in the general population. While there is information regarding what these beliefs correlate with (e.g., cognitive biases, personality styles), there is little information regarding the causal direction between these beliefs and their correlates. To...
Article
Difficulties in social functioning have been linked to schizotypy, which may reflect vulnerability to psychotic disorders. We investigated these links in early adolescence, a developmental stage when many mental illnesses first emerge. Using the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire and The Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences, we examined...
Article
Theory of mind (ToM), the ability to infer one's own and others’ mental states, is the social cognitive process shown to have the greatest impact on functional outcome in schizophrenia. It is not yet known if neural abnormalities underlying ToM present early, during the first episode of psychosis (FEP). Fourteen FEP participants and twenty-two heal...
Article
Full-text available
Our capacity to attend a target while ignoring irrelevant distraction impacts our ability to successfully interact with our environment. Previous reports have sometimes identified excessive distractor interference in both autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders and in neurotypical individuals with high subclinical expressions of these condition...
Chapter
This chapter outlines the brief definitions of aggression and violence and their subtypes. Conceptions and misconceptions regarding the association of mental illness with aggression and violence are considered in three major mental illnesses: schizophrenia, personality disorders and autism. The chapter highlights the key neurobiological features th...
Article
Currently, there is an intense pursuit of pathognomonic markers and diagnostic (‘risk-based’) classifiers of psychiatric conditions. Commonly, the epidemiological prevalence of the condition is not factored into the development of these classifiers. By not adjusting for prevalence, classifiers overestimate the potential of their clinical utility. A...
Article
Full-text available
Various clinical disorders, including psychopathy, and autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders, have been linked with impairments in Theory of Mind (ToM). However, although these conditions can co-occur in the same individual, the effect of their inter-play on ToM abilities has not been investigated. Here we assessed ToM abilities in 55 healthy...
Article
There is increasing recognition of the co-occurrence of autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. However, the clinical significance of this on outcomes such as depression and suicidal thinking has not been explored. This study examines the association of autism spectrum traits, depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviour in individuals with psyc...
Article
Objective: While diagnostically independent, autism and schizotypal disorders can co-occur. Their concurrent impact on outcomes and phenotypes has not been investigated. We investigated the impact of comorbid autism and schizotypal disorders in children on executive functioning and socio-pragmatic skills - core features of both disorders. Method:...
Article
Background: Autism and schizophrenia are associated with difficulties in social perception and understanding. However, the relationship between these conditions and the way they affect social functioning have been a contentious issue. In addition, a dimensional view of psychopathology suggests that subclinical expressions can explain interindividua...
Article
Objective To determine the expression of autistic and positive schizotypal traits in a large sample of adults with bipolar I disorder (BD-I), and the effect of co-occurring autistic and positive schizotypal traits on global functioning in BD-I. Method Autistic and positive schizotypal traits were self-assessed in 797 individuals with BD-I recruite...
Article
ntroduction: Independent lines of evidence suggest a potentially contrasting effect of autism and schizophrenia and the broader spectrum of their traits in neurotypical participants on attention processes, particularly in conditions requiring distractor suppression. However, previous studies fail to highlight a consistent effect on performance. One...
Article
Introduction: Patients with schizophrenia show impairments in working-memory and visual-spatial processing, but little is known about the dynamic interplay between the two. To provide insight into this important question, we examined the effect of positive and negative symptom expressions in healthy adults on perceptual processing while concurrent...
Article
The mentalizing network is atypically activated in autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. While these disorders are considered diagnostically independent, expressions of both can co-occur in the same individual. We examined the concurrent effect of autism traits and psychosis proneness on the activity of the mentalizing network in 24 neurotyp...
Article
Atypical responses to salient information are a candidate endophenotype for both autism and psychosis spectrum disorders. The present study investigated the costs and benefits of such atypicalities for saliency-based selection in a large cohort of neurotypical adults in whom both autism and psychosis expressions were assessed. Two experiments found...
Poster
Background: A large number of genetic studies suggest that autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders (ASD and SSD, respectively) are in part mediated by overlapping copy number variants (CNVs) (a form of structural variations or alterations of the DNA of a genome). It has been proposed that these shared risks for both ASD and SSD can be used to e...
Presentation
Background/aims: Psychopathy is a personality disorder partly characterized by affective features (e.g. callous-unemotional), a manipulative and deceitful interpersonal style, and the propensity to engage in violent and criminal behaviors. It has been suggested that an impairment in the ability to understand the overt behaviors of self and others i...
Article
Psychopathy and metacognitive difficulties have been associated with the occurrence of violence in schizophrenia. However, evidence suggests that nonschizophrenic psychopaths match or even outperform healthy controls on tests of metacognition. We hypothesize that the metacognitive difficulties associated with schizophrenia may be ameliorated by com...
Article
Oxytocin is a nonapeptide that also serves as a neuromodulator in the human central nervous system. Over the last decade, a sizeable body of literature has examined its effects on social behavior in humans. These studies show that oxytocin modulates various aspects of social behaviors such as empathy, trust, in-group preference, and memory of socia...
Article
Full-text available
Difficulties with the ability to appreciate the perspective of others (mentalizing) is central to both autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. While the disorders are diagnostically independent, they can co-occur in the same individual. The effect of such co-morbidity is hypothesized to worsen mentalizing abilities. The recent influential 'dia...
Article
Full-text available
Oxytocin (OT) plays a critical role in the formation of long lasting social attachments across a range of mammalian species. Raising intracerebral OT levels by intranasal administration of the neuropeptide (inOT) can also have pronounced effects on human sociocognitive functioning. inOT has been associated with increasing altruism, generosity, empa...
Conference Paper
The right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ) is a shared region of networks subtending socio-cognitive functions such as mentalizing and domain-general computations such as attention-reorienting. Atypical activations in the rTPJ have been independently observed in autism and schizophrenia spectrum disorders in tasks activating either network. While c...
Article
Letter to the Editor: Oxytocin and empathy to pain in schizophrenia: a reply - Volume 45 Issue 6 - A. Abu-Akel, M. Fischer-Shofty, Y. Levkovitz, J. Decety, S. Shamay-Tsoory