Pascal Vrtička

Pascal Vrtička
University of Essex · Department of Psychology

PhD in Neuroscience
Assistant Professor / Lecturer in Psychology, University of Essex (Colchester, UK). PI of SoNeAt Lab.

About

89
Publications
26,533
Reads
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Introduction
I am a social cognitive affective neuroscientist with strong ties to developmental and biological psychology. My interdisciplinary research focuses on normal as well as disturbed functioning of the human social brain. I use neuroimaging (fMRI, fNIRS, EEG), biological methods ([epi]genetics, blood and saliva samples for immune system functioning assessment and telomere length measurement), psychological questionnaires & narrative-based methods, and behavioral assessment as main research tools. My participants are adults, adolescents, as well as children, both female and male.
Additional affiliations
March 2020 - present
University of Essex
Position
  • Lecturer
January 2019 - February 2020
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Position
  • Senior Researcher
November 2015 - December 2018
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Position
  • Group Leader
Education
January 2006 - December 2009
University of Geneva
Field of study
  • Neurosciences
October 1999 - May 2005
ETH Zurich
Field of study
  • Neurosciences

Publications

Publications (89)
Article
Full-text available
Humour is a vital component of human socio-affective and cognitive functioning. Recent advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers to explore this human attribute in children and adults. Humour seems to engage a core network of cortical and subcortical structures, including temporo-occipito-parietal areas involved in detecting and resolving i...
Article
Full-text available
Since its first description four decades ago, attachment theory has become one of the principal developmental psychological frameworks for describing the role of individual differences in the establishment and maintenance of social bonds between people. Yet, still little is known about the neurobiological underpinnings of attachment orientations an...
Article
Attachment theory suggests that interindividual differences in attachment security versus insecurity (anxiety and avoidance) contribute to the ways in which people perceive social emotional signals, particularly from the human face. Among different facial features, eye gaze conveys crucial information for social interaction, with a straight gaze tr...
Article
Full-text available
Based on its role in social processing and stress, oxytocin has been suggested to mediate stress reduction of socio-affective, compassion-based mental training. We tested this hypothesis in the ReSource Project, a 9-month longitudinal mental training study. Participants practiced three different types of mental training, targeting either attentiona...
Article
Full-text available
Child maltreatment gives rise to atypical patterns of social functioning with peers which might be particularly pronounced in early adolescence when peer influence typically peaks. Yet, few neuroimaging studies in adolescents use peer interaction paradigms to parse neural correlates of distinct maltreatment exposures. This fMRI study examines effec...
Article
Full-text available
Advert for Cogent Psychology Publish your Policy Brief rapidly today and inspire change for tomorrow. Banner advert for Australian Journal of Psychology, now open access Full Article Figures & data References Citations Metrics Reprints & Permissions Get access Accepted author version Abstract Most studies on mammalian caregiving and attachment have...
Article
Full-text available
The existing literature suggests that individual differences in attachment may be associated with differential trajectories of structural brain development. In addition to maturation during infancy and childhood, developmental trajectories are characteristic of adolescence, a period marked by increasingly complex interpersonal relationships and sig...
Article
Based on its role in social processing and stress, oxytocin was suggested to mediate stress reduction after compassion-based mental training. In the ReSource Project, a 9-month longitudinal mental training study, we first examined oxytocin's role in psychosocial stress reduction after training socio-affective (i.e., compassion-based, Affect Module)...
Article
Chronic stress exposure reduces expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in animal and disease models. The stress-hormone cortisol has an antagonistic relationship with BDNF and may be implicated in this process. Previous work including our own suggests that contemplative mental training interventions like mindfulness-based stress red...
Article
Full-text available
Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) often show alexithymia, but the brain mechanisms underlying this emotional disorder remains unknown. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate alterations of emotion processing and emotion regulation in patients with MS, and their relationships with alexithymia. Nineteen MS patients wi...
Article
Full-text available
Objective: To investigate the effect of regular contemplative mental training on endocrine and psychological indices of long-term stress. Methods: An open-label efficacy trial that comprised three distinct 3-month modules targeting attention and interoception, socio-affective or socio-cognitive abilities through dyadic exercises and secularised...
Article
Full-text available
The use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) hyperscanning during naturalistic interactions in parent-child dyads has substantially advanced our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of human social interaction. However, despite the rise of developmental hyperscanning studies over the last years, analysis procedures have no...
Article
Full-text available
The hippocampus is a highly plastic brain structure supporting functions central to human cognition. Morphological changes in the hippocampus have been implicated in development, aging, as well as in a broad range of neurological and psychiatric disorders. A growing body of research suggests that hippocampal plasticity is closely linked to the acti...
Preprint
Full-text available
The use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) hyperscanning during naturalistic interactions in parent-child dyads has substantially advanced our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of human social interaction. However, despite the rise of developmental hyperscanning studies over the last years, analysis procedures have no...
Article
Full-text available
Interpersonal neural synchrony (INS) has been previously evidenced in mother-child interactions, yet findings concerning father-child interaction are wanting. The current experiment examined whether fathers and their 5- to 6-year-old children (N=66) synchronize their brain activity during a naturalistic interaction, and addressed paternal and child...
Article
Full-text available
Attachment theory proposes that children's representations of interactions with caregivers guide information-processing about others, bridging interpersonal domains. In a longitudinal study (N = 165), preschoolers (M age = 5.19 years) completed the MacArthur Story Stem Battery to assess parent representations. At school-age (M age = 8.42 years), ch...
Article
Full-text available
Humans are strongly dependent upon social resources for allostasis and emotion regulation. This applies especially to early childhood because humans – as an altricial species – have a prolonged period of dependency on support and input from caregivers who typically act as sources of co-regulation. Accordingly, attachment theory proposes that the hi...
Preprint
Full-text available
Objective This study had the objective to investigate the effect of regular contemplative mental training on endocrine indices of long-term stress. Methods An open-label efficacy trial comprising three distinct 3-month modules targeting attention and interoception, socio-affective or socio-cognitive abilities through dyadic exercises and secularis...
Presentation
Full-text available
Keynote on "The Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment" delivered by Dr Pascal Vrticka at the SoNeAt Workshop 2020 (August 12-13, 2020) with the overall title "70 Years of Attachment Research: A Multidisciplinary Social Neuroscience Perspective".
Preprint
Full-text available
Humans are strongly dependent upon social resources for allostasis and emotion regulation. This applies especially to early childhood because humans – as an altricial species – have a prolonged period of dependency on support and input from caregivers who typically act as sources of co-regulation. Accordingly, attachment theory proposes that the hi...
Preprint
Full-text available
Most studies on mammalian caregiving and attachment have focused on the mother-child relationship, particularly in humans. Yet, changing societal roles of male caregivers have highlighted the necessity for research with fathers. In this study, we examined the volume of the hypothalamus, an important subcortical brain area for caregiving and attachm...
Article
Full-text available
Conversations are an essential form of communication in daily family life. Specific patterns of caregiver-child conversations have been linked to children's socio-cognitive development and child relationship quality beyond the immediate family environment. Recently, interpersonal neural synchronization has been proposed as a neural mechanism suppor...
Presentation
Full-text available
30-minute presentation (virtual talk) on some of our bio-behavioural synchrony and inter-brain coherence research employing an attachment perspective, using fNIRS hyperscanning in parent-child pairs. YOU CAN ACCESS THE VIRTUAL TALK WITH THIS LINK TO YOUTUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWd4QubioUs.
Preprint
Full-text available
Attachment theory suggests that interindividual differences in attachment security versus insecurity (anxiety and avoidance) contribute to the ways in which people perceive social emotional signals, particularly from the human face. Among different facial features, eye gaze conveys crucial information for social interaction, with a straight gaze tr...
Preprint
Full-text available
Interpersonal neural synchrony (INS) has been previously evidenced in mother-child interactions, yet findings concerning father-child interaction are wanting. The current experiment examined whether fathers and their 5- to 6-year-old children (N=66) synchronize their brain activity during a naturalistic interaction, and addressed paternal and child...
Article
Full-text available
Attachment theory, developed by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby about seventy years ago, has become one of the most influential and comprehensive contemporary psychology theories. It predicts that early social interactions with significant others shape the emergence of distinct self- and other-representations, the latter affecting how we initiate an...
Article
Full-text available
Objective: The main purpose of the current study was to investigate the effect of one HF-rTMS session over right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (RDLPFC) on autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and subjective emotional appraisals of visual stimuli with social and non-social positive and negative emotional content. Materials and method: Participan...
Article
Full-text available
Understanding others is fundamental to interpersonal coordination and successful cooperation. One mechanism posited to underlie both effective communication and behavioral coordination is interpersonal neural synchrony. Although presumably foundational for children’s social development, research on neural synchrony in naturalistic caregiver-child i...
Article
Full-text available
Attachment plays a key role in how children process information about the self and others. Here, we examined the neural bases of interindividual differences in attachment in late childhood and tested whether social cognition-related neural activity varies as function of age. In a small sample of 8-year-old to 12-year-old children (n = 21/19), we us...
Article
Full-text available
Growing evidence suggests that chronic low-grade inflammation can be reduced through mindfulness-based mental training interventions. However, these results are inconsistent and based on patient populations with heterogeneous conditions. Similar research in healthy adults is lacking. Moreover, common intervention protocols involve varying combinati...
Article
Full-text available
Importance Telomere length is associated with the development of age-related diseases and structural differences in multiple brain regions. It remains unclear, however, whether change in telomere length is linked to brain structure change, and to what extent telomere length can be influenced through mental training. Objectives To assess the dynami...
Article
Aim: The 22q11.2 deletion (22q11DS) syndrome is a neurogenetic condition marked by social dysfunction. A major network involved in social cognition is the default mode network (DMN). To date, no study has investigated DMN functional connectivity during socio-cognitive paradigms in 22q11DS. Method: We used the psychophysiological analysis (PPI) t...
Article
The human body is highly susceptible to stress. It reacts to ongoing psychosocial challenge as it would to acute threats to our physical integrity: with the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Contemplative mental training interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, have bec...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Humans are social beings. Social interactions play a central role for the human species throughout the entire life span, but especially in early life when children are dependent on support and protection by others (Insel & Young, 2001; Bowlby, 1969). The social environment is not only vitally salient for humans due to the simple evolutionary constr...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Attachment theory postulates that a child’s attachment relationship with their primary caregiver(s) leads to the development of so-called internal working models (IWMs; Bowlby, 1969). These IWMs are conceptualized as cognitive frameworks comprising mental representations for understanding the world, oneself, and others, in the sense that memories o...
Conference Paper
Introduction: Neural correlates of adult attachment (usually differentiated into secure, anxious, and avoidant) have been increasingly studied in human mothers and, to a lesser extent, in fathers. In studies of maternal attachment, the hypothalamus has been identified as a potential source of individual differences. Specifically, larger midbrain vo...
Conference Paper
Introduction: Being excluded from a social group is generally associated with the experience of negative emotions. The degree of negative eamotion experience, however, may depend on individual differences, and particularly relationship quality as assessed by attachment orientations (secure, anxious, and avoidant). Within this context, no study has...
Article
Full-text available
Eye gaze conveys crucial information for social interactions, with straight versus averted gaze triggering distinct emotional and cognitive processes. The "stare-in-the-crowd" effect exemplifies such differential visual processing of gaze direction, in more recent reports also in interaction with head orientation. Besides aiming at replicating the...
Article
Coordinated brain activity between individuals, or inter-brain synchrony, has been shown to increase during cooperation and correlate with cooperation success. However, few studies have examined parent-child inter-brain synchrony and whether it is associated with meaningful aspects of the parent-child relationship. Here, we measured inter-brain syn...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Die Bindungstheorie postuliert, dass frühe Erfahrungen in engen Beziehungen die Wahrnehmung sozialer und emotionaler Information und die Emotionsregulation während der gesamten Lebensspanne prägen. Doch wie werden diese Prozesse in relevanten sozialen Interaktionen aktiviert und wie wirken sie zusammen mit individuellen Faktoren seitens der einzeln...
Poster
The length of telomeres, protective nucleotide sequences located at the tips of chromosomes, is a reliable marker of biological aging. Repeated cell divisions over the lifespan wear down telomeres, and shorter telomeres are linked to increased disease and mortality. Recent research has highlighted beneficial effects of contemplative practices on te...
Article
Full-text available
Social information is particularly relevant for the human species because of its direct link to guiding physiological responses and behavior. Accordingly, extant functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data suggest that social content may form a unique stimulus dimension. It remains largely unknown, however, how neural activity underlying soci...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Attachment represents one of the most fundamental behaviors in mammals, including humans. Its biological function is to orchestrate a primary social defense strategy: enhancing the chances for survival through proximity seeking in times of danger and need. Based on initial findings from animal studies, the field of social cognitive affective neuros...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Behavioral and affective attunement between caregiver and child are considered essential for attachment and emotion regulation (Stern, 1985). Behavioral synchrony between infant and caregiver in face-to-face interactions is closely associated with synchrony on the physiological level, e.g. coupling of heart rate during behavioral synchrony (Feldman...
Preprint
Full-text available
Eye gaze conveys crucial information for social interactions, with straight versus averted gaze triggering distinct emotional and cognitive processes. The "stare-in-the-crowd" effect exemplifies such differential visual processing of gaze direction, in more recent reports also in interaction with head orientation. Besides aiming at replicating the...
Article
Full-text available
Background: Social impairments are described as a common feature of the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS). However, the neural correlates underlying these impairments are largely unknown in this population. In this study, we investigated neural substrates of socio-emotional perception. Methods: We used event-related functional magnetic resonance...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Appraisal theory of emotion suggests that information processing occurs as a sequence of appraisal checks that coordinate a range of responses to a particular event. Within this approach, relevance detection is considered to be a first selective filter through which a stimulus needs to pass to merit further processing. Previous neuroimaging researc...
Article
Full-text available
Introduction: Self-referential processing is a key component of the emotional self-concept. Previous studies have shown that emotional self-referential processing is related to structure and function of cortical midline areas such as medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and that it can be altered on a behavioral level by specific mental training practi...
Article
Full-text available
Attachment in the context of intimate pair bonds is most frequently studied in terms of the universal strategy to draw near, or away, from significant others at moments of personal distress. However, important interindividual differences in the quality of attachment exist, usually captured through secure versus insecure – anxious and/or avoidant –...
Preprint
Full-text available
Attachment in the context of intimate pair bonds is most frequently studied in terms of the universal strategy to draw near, or away, from significant others at moments of personal distress. However, important inter-individual differences in the quality of attachment exist, usually captured through secure versus insecure – anxious and/or avoidant –...
Preprint
Full-text available
Attachment in the context of intimate pair bonds is most frequently studied in terms of the universal strategy to draw near, or away, from significant others at moments of personal distress. However, important inter-individual differences in the quality of attachment exist, usually captured through secure versus insecure – anxious and/or avoidant –...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
There is mounting evidence from animal experiments and studies in humans that the quality of maternal care-assessed by the frequency of licking and grooming or affective touch-is associated with neurobiological and-psychological changes in the offspring. Within this context, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the oxytocin system appe...
Preprint
Full-text available
Social information is highly intrinsically relevant for the human species because of its direct link to guiding physiological responses and behavior. Accordingly, extant functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data suggest that social content may form a unique stimulus dimension. It remains largely unknown, however, how neural activity underly...
Chapter
Attachment theory, developed by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and his American colleague Mary Ainsworth, aims at explaining why early interactions with caregivers have such a pervasive and lasting effect on personality development beyond childhood. Combining aspects of Darwinian evolutionary biology with social and personality psychology, a...
Poster
Full-text available
Attachment theory describes a dedicated attachment behavioral system that is conceptually dissociated from other behavioral systems – like caregiving, affiliation, etc. But does such dedicated attachment behavioral system also exist on a neural level within the human brain? This poster first presents a social neuroscience model of the human attachm...
Chapter
The investigation of the putative underlying brain substrates of compassion has only emerged recently within the field of social neuroscience. This chapter aims at summarizing the available brain data on compassion by developing a neurospsychological compassion model, and to delineate some possible future directions of neuroscientific compassion re...
Article
Full-text available
One of teenagers' key developmental tasks is to engage in new and meaningful relationships with peers and adults outside the family context. Attachment-derived expectations about the self and others in terms of internal attachment working models have the potential to shape such social reorientation processes critically and thereby influence adolesc...
Article
In a large-scale longitudinal mental training study, we examined whether learning different contemplative practices can change the emotional content of people’s self-concept as assessed through emotional word use in the Twenty Statement Test. During three 3-month training modules, participants learned distinct practices targeting attentional, socio...