Clinical Social Neuroscience Unit

Mann sitzt vor Bildschirmen, auf denen Auswertungen eines MRT-Geräts zu sehen sind

Social cognition, inter-subjectivity, social behaviors are crucial elements for successful everyday interaction and communication as well as for a mature and fulfilling quality of life.

The primary aim of the Lab is to understand from a neuroscientific point of view the mechanisms (neurochemical and neurophysiological) behind processes at the heart of what has been termed “social intelligence”, such as empathy and prosocial behaviors, in the clinical and non-clinical population. This goal is achieved by using multi-level approach that combines different methodologies: genetic, functional neuroimaging, TMS, EEG and pharmacological manipulations.

Research Lines

  • Basic research: focus on the understanding of the fundamental mechanisms behind social cognition, social emotions and their link to social behaviors.
  • Clinical research: focus on the understanding of deficits in social competence and processing of other people’s mental and emotional states observed in pathology such as sociopathy, autism and alexithymia.
  • Developmental research: focus on the understanding of the development of social emotions, social intelligence and prosociality across the life span.
  • Translational research: focus on bridging different theoretical and methodological approaches such as psychotherapy and neuroscience.

Lab Members

Scientific Interests

In the past 10 years I have been working on the neural foundations of social cognition and social emotions, especially empathy and prosocial behaviors. The focus of my research is both in the normal developing and clinical population (especially autism and alexithymia). I recently expanded my interests to the investigation of the neurobiological mechanisms behind social reward.

Scientific Interests

My research interests revolve around many topics of cognitive neuroscience, including social perception and reward. In my early career I mastered the use of TMS to induce and measure plastic changes within and between the visual and the motor systems in order to investigate the relationship between neural connectivity and behaviour. Currently my strand of research investigates altered mechanisms of reward, especially social reward, in individuals in the autism spectrum by taking advantage of functional MRI. 

Scientific Interests

My research interests are in the area of social behavior, social cognition and social emotions. I worked on empathy and vicarious emotions, in particular pain. I am currently working on the neurochemical and neurocognitive basis of primary and social reward.

Scientific Interests

I am interested in how our motivation to engage in affiliative behaviors interacts with more basic survival systems of the organism, such as energy regulation. My current research is on the effects of social and metabolic stress on social and non-social reward processing.

Scientific Interests

I am interested in the topics of dehumanization and sexual objectification, and their link to social cognition and behavior.

Recent Publications


Ruff, C.C., Bukowski, H., Tik, M., Silani, G., Windischberger, C. & Lamm, C. (in press). When differences matter: rTMS/fMRI reveals how differences in dispositional empathy translate to distinct neural underpinnings of self-other distinction in empathy. Cortex

Korb, S., Massaccesi, C., Gartus, A., Lundström, J. N., Rumiati, R., Eisenegger, C. & Silani, G. (2020). Facial responses of adult humans during the anticipation and consumption of touch and food rewards. Cognition, Volume 194, 10.1093/scan/nsz033

Patil, I., Zucchelli, M. M., Kool, W., Campbell, S., Fornasier, F., Calò, M., Silani, G., Cikara, M., & Cushman, F. (2020). Reasoning supports utilitarian resolutions to moral dilemmas across diverse measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.



Sharda, M., Silani, G., Specht, K., Tillmann, J., Nater, U. & Gold, C.(2019). Music therapy for children with autism: investigating social behaviour through music. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 3 (11), 759-761 doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30265-2. 

Morese, R., Lamm, C., Bosco, M.F., Valentini, M.C., Silani, G. (2019). Social support modulates the neural correlates underlying social exclusion. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. May 6. pii: nsz033. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsz033



Patil, I., Zucchelli, M. M., Kool, W., Campbell, S., Fornasier, F., Calo', M., Silani, G., Cikara, M., & Cushman, F. A. (2018). Reasoning supports utilitarian resolutions to moral dilemmas across diverse measures. PsyArXiv. doi: 10.31234/

Lamm, C., Riva, F.,  Silani, G. (2018). Empathy decline at older age?. Aging, 10(6), 1182-1183. doi: 10.18632/aging.101467

Fietz, J., Valencia, N., Silani, G. Alexithymia and autistic traits as possible predictors for traits related to depression, anxiety, and stress: A multivariate statistical approach (2018). J Eval Clin Pract. Aug;24(4):901-908. doi:10.1111/jep.12961.

Cogoni, C., Carnaghi, A., Mitrovic, A., Leder, H., Fantoni, C., Silani, G. (2018). Understanding the mechanisms behind the sexualized-body inversion hypothesis: the role of asymmetry and attention biases. PlosOne. Published online 5 April 2018.

Riva, F., Tschernegg, M., Chiesa, P.A., Wagner, I.C., Kronbichler, M., Lamm, C., Silani, G. (2018). Age-related differences in the neural correlates of empathy for pleasant and unpleasant touch in a female sample. Neurobiology of Aging . 65: 7-17.

Patil, I., Zanon, M.*, Novembre, G.*, Zangrando, N., Chittaro, L., & Silani, G. (2018). Neuroanatomical basis of concern-based altruism in virtual environment. Neuropsychologia. 116, 34-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.02.015
[pdf] ​ [supplementary]  [Data and Materials]  [Neuroimaging maps]



Cogoni, C., Carnaghi, A., Silani, G. (2017). Reduced empathic responses for sexually objectified women: an fMRI investigation. Cortex. Published online 8 December 2017.

Coll, M-P., Viding, E., Rütgen, M., Silani, G., Lamm, C., Catmur, C., & Bird, G. (2017). Are we Really Measuring Empathy? Proposal for a New Measurement Framework. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 83:132-139.

Patil, I., Calo', M., Fornasier, F., Cushman, F.*, Silani, G.* (2017). The behavioral and neural basis of empathic blame. Scientific Reports.  doi:
[pdf]  [supplementary]  [Data and Materials]  [Neuroimaging maps]

Patil, I., Calo', M.*, Fornasier, F.*, Young, L., Silani, G. (2017). Neuroanatomical correlates of forgiving unintentional harms. Scientific Reports, 7:45967. doi: 10.1038/srep45967
[pdf]  [supplementary]  [Data and Materials]  [Neuroimaging maps]

Patil, I., Zanon, M.*, Novembre, G.*, Zangrando, N., Chittaro, L., Silani, G. (2017). Neuroanatomical basis of concern-based altruism in virtual environment. Neuropsychologia,. Published online 22 February 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.02.015
[supplementary]  [Data and Materials]  [Neuroimaging maps]



Patil, I.*, Melsbach, J.*, Hennig-Fast, K., & Silani, G. (2016). Divergent roles of autistic and alexithymic traits in utilitarian moral judgments in adults with autism. Scientific Reports, 6:23637.  doi:10.1038/srep23637
[pdf] [supplementary]

Riva, F, Triscoli, C., Lamm, C., Carnaghi, C., Silani, G. (2016). Emotional Egocentricity Bias across the life-span. Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience. 8:74. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.0007.

Lamm, C., Bukowski, H., & Silani, G. (2016). From shared to distinct self–other representations in empathy: evidence from neurotypical function and socio-cognitive disorders. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 371: 20150083. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0083. Published online 7 Dec 2015.


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* denotes equal contributions