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Developing a Social Skills Workshop for Teenagers with Mobius Syndrome

Dr. John Michael has received support from Warwick Impact Fund for a project aiming towards developing a social skills workshop for teenagers with Möbius Syndrome (MS). The workshop will be held on 25-26 March, 2017.


Project Aims:

Möbius Syndrome (MS) is a form of congenital facial paralysis resulting from maldevelopment of the sixth and seventh cranial nerves. Given the centrality of the face for expressing emotions and other mental states, and for communicating other non-verbal social cues, it is no surprise that many people with MS experience difficulties in their social interactions. In this project, a central aim is to implement and test the efficacy of a social skills workshop for teenagers with MS to develop alternative communication strategies (e.g. gestures, body posture, prosody) to compensate for their lack of facial expressivity.

The project builds upon the results of a pilot study conducted in Denmark, and also upon previous work done by Changing Faces, a UK charity organization helping people with facial difference owing to various causes. In the pilot study, we found that the workshop led to an increase in rapport in interactions between one teenager with MS and one without. We also observed an increase in expressivity not only in the participants with MS but also in their interlocutors, while fidgeting and repetitiveness of verbal behavior decreased in both groups. This is important because it indicates that some of the difficulties experienced by people with MS in social interactions arise from others' discomfort or uncertainty.


Theoretical Basis and Practical Benefits:

The project builds upon theoretical work in the area of 'embodied cognition'. Some embodied cognition theorists conceive of implicit bodily processes, including gesture, prosody and facial expression, as alternatives to higher-level cognition (executive control, attention, reasoning). In contrast to this, the framework employed here conceptualizes this relation as complementary, and presents a starting point for investigating the possibilities and limitations of the functional integration of these different kinds of processes. The MS-population presents an opportunity to study this functional integration while at the same time generating clear social benefits:

  • Improving social skills in real-life domains for teenagers with MS, such as when making conversation with a stranger and during job interviews
  • Improving the perception and treatment, particularly in schools, of individuals with MS and facial difference owing to other causes -- e.g. burns, scars, or Bell's palsy, as well as differences in appearance owing to religion or ethnicity.


Participation:

We are looking for teenagers - with or without Möbius Syndrome - to participate. If you may be interested and would like more information, please contact John Michael: j.michael.2@warwick.ac.uk

Collaborators:

Dr. Kathleen Bogart

Assistant Professor

School of Psychological Science

Oregon St University

USA

Dr. Riccardo Fusaroli

Assistant Professsor

Interacting Minds Centre

Aarhus University, Denmark

Henrietta Spalding and Elizabeth Noble

Changing Faces

London, UK

https://www.changingfaces.org.uk

Dr Rachel Mumford

Clinical Psychologist

Psychological Services (Paediatrics)

Alder Hey Children's Hospital

Liverpool, UK

Laura Davies

Phd Candidate, Department of Psychology

University of Bristol, UK


The project demonstrates how basic research in the philosophy of cognitive science can integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines to contribute to society in novel ways. Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to contact John Michael j dot michael dot 2 at warwick dot ac dot uk

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Dr. John Michael has also commenced a major new 5-year research project funded by a Starting Grant from the European Research Council on developing a theoretical framework for research on the sense of commitment. Read more here.