Emotion and Adaptive Social Function

This group is led by Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith.  We are primarily interested in social emotional and social cognitive abilities, and the ways in which these impact upon and guide adaptive social function.  We approach questions from affective neuroscience and neuropsychological frameworks, examining these associations in both healthy individuals, and in clinical populations where difficulties in these domains are marked.

Current Projects

 Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith

Dr Nadine Lindinger

Natalia Berghoff

Lea-Ann Pileggi

Katie Hamilton

Anita Prag

Social cognitive development in the Western Cape: Associations with aggression. This ongoing project aims to document development of key domains in social cognition (e.g. emotion understanding; theory of mind; empathy) in Western Cape children. Associations with prosocial vs. aggressive behavior are examined.

P.I: Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith

Early socioemotional and social cognitive development: risk implications for aggressive behavior – sub-study on the Drakenstein Child Health Study.
This longitudinal study examines the influence of early factors – maternal style and child self- and emotion-regulation – on development of social cognition and empathy in a cohort of low SES peri-urban Western Cape children. These factors are also considered in relation to evidence of prosocial behavior and of early indicators of risk for lifetime aggressive trajectories – viz. the presence of early aggressive externalizing behavior, and callous-unemotional personality traits.

Substudy PI: Susan Malcolm-Smith; DCHS PI: Prof Heather Zar (SCAH, UCT); Head of Psychosocial team: Prof Dan Stein (Psychiatry, UCT); Collaborators: Assoc. Prof Kirsty Donald (Developmental Pediatrics, UCT). DCHS main study funded by Gates Foundation. Dr Malcolm-Smith's substudy funded by the National Research Foundation

Do opioids reduce the pain of social rejection? Grounded in Pankepp’s models of core mammalian emotion systems, this study examines the role of mu-opioids in social loss, social pain, and social decision making.

PI: Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith; Co-investigators: Prof Mark Solms, Prof Dan Stein,
Professor Jack van Honk. Funded by the Institute for the Study of Affective Neuroscience.

Examining social cognition in South African children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Dr Nadine Lindinger is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Child Development Research Lab, UCT.  She completed her PhD in this area, and continues to work on the FASD cohort established in the 1990's by Profs Sandy and Jo Jacobson of Wayne State University and Prof Chris Molteno of UCT.  We are developing new protocols to assess social cognition and social emotional functioning in adolescents and young children.

Dr  Nadine Lindinger; Collaborators: Andrea Kemp, Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith, Prof Sandy Jacobson, Prof Jo Jacobson (Wayne State U), Prof Chris Molteno (UCT),
Prof Ernesta Meintjes (MRC Neuroimaging Unit, UCT).

Service Delivery and its Implications for Quality of Life in Autism Spectrum Disorders. This project aims to develop a greater understanding of the services provided (and those not provided) to individuals with ASD and their families, as well as the impact aspects of service delivery have on the QoL of individuals with ASD and on their families; and to provide key information regarding the shortfalls and limitations of the services provided.  This project forms part of a World Universities Network investigation of service delivery for ASD across 8 countries.

PhD Candidate: Natalia Berghoff; Supervisors: Assoc Prof Kevin Thomas,
Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith.  Funded in part by WUN; PI Prof Huso Yi, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Examining the neurocognitive and behavioral profile of Western Cape children with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex to develop appropriate individualized interventions to address behavioral difficulties. This study, developed in collaboration with Prof Jo Wilmshurst, Head of Pediatric Neurology, UCT, aims to characterize the cognitive and behavioral profiles of children with TSC in the Western Cape.  Once case specific profiles are established, tailored intervention programs for each child will be developed and implemented.

Project Manager: Natalia Berghoff; Collaborators: Prof Jo Wilmshurst, Neurology, UCT, Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith.  Janet Kappelman, a post clinical-Masters intern from Switzerland and Teneille Page, MA student, are conducting part of the research

The development of empathy in South African children: Investigating empathy as predictor of aggressive and antisocial behaviour. This research focuses on empathy development, patterns of attachment, and affect regulation in South African children, and how these variables impact on prosocial versus aggressive and antisocial behaviour, which in turn has implications for intervention strategy development.

PhD Candidate: Lea-Ann Pileggi; Supervisor: Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith;
Co-Supervisor: Prof Jean Decety (U Chicago).

Investigating the biological bases of social deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorders. This project aims to characterize in detail profiles of social deficits, social cognition and social reciprocity in a pediatric ASD sample.  Associations with candidate genes (5-HTTLPR and OPRM-1) will be examined.

PhD Candidate: Katie Hamilton; Supervisor: Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith. Funded by the National Research Foundation Thuthuka Program.

The influence of maternal style on the development of Theory of Mind and prosocial behavior in semi-rural preschool children in the Western Cape. Anita is a Clinical Psychologist, who has returned to academia to pursue her PhD.  Her research will focus on aspects of the socio-emotional substudy from the DCHS cohort.  She will be characterizing maternal style at 3.5yrs (child age) across two communities, and examining preceding risk factors (e.g. maternal psychiatric status, trauma exposure) and later outcomes in the form of child ToM and prosocial behavior at 4.5 yrs.

PhD Candidate: Anita Prag; Supervisor: Dr Susan Malcolm-Smith; Collaborators: Prof Heather Zar; Prof Dan Stein, Assoc. Prof Kirsty Donald; Dr Sarah Halligan (University of Bath).  Funded by the Gates Foundation, the National Research Foundation, and a Newton Fellowship.

© 2011-2017 Acsent: Department of Psychology University of Cape Town