Carolien Rieffe PhD

Despite stereotypical ideas on autism, normally intelligent or ‘high functioning’ children with autism spectrum disorders (HFASD) often display an adequate understanding of basic emotions of others and of themselves. In the present line of research we examine their more advanced emotional abilities, e.g. using emotional display rules and understanding mixed or implicit emotions, and factors involved in the actual use of these abilities in daily life situations. Recent results include, for example, the finding that children with HFASD show an adequate ability to reason about emotions, but strongly rely on theoretical knowledge. Special attention is also given to children’s understanding of and coping with their own emotions, which has received little attention in the research literature to date.

The origins of emotion control

In order to interact with others properly, you need to be able to control your emotions. This involves the ability to acknowledge your own emotions and to know how to communicate these most effectively. For autistic children this seems to be problematic but the origins of this lack of emotion control are unclear. Are these children more easily aroused than their peers? Do they lack insight into the communicative function of emotions? By using mood induction techniques and by varying the salience of a goal (i.e., reaching a personal or a social goal) we aim to study the origins of emotion control.

Researchers involved: Carolien Rieffe

Prize for Carolien and Lizet for their article on Autism

Publications on autism

News Archive Autism

Presentations in Rotterdam and Vienna

conferences March2017

Focus on Emotions lab has been busy these days! Sharing and discussing findings and insights to a broader audience of academics and professionals is important for research. On 24 March 2017, Boya, Anne, Danique, and Tamara presented their studies on autism at National Autism Congress in Rotterdam. Boya and Tamara shared their findings on the development of internalizing and externalizing behaviors in autistic boys, while Anne and Danique talked about empathy in autistic girls. Meanwhile, Carolien and Sheida were in Vienna, Austria, for the biennial International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS). Carolien presented new behavioral data on adolescents with communicative impairments in two symposiums. Sheida talked about cultural differences in understanding one’s own and others people’s emotions. The talks were well received and generated lively discussions.

Empathy in Girls with Autism

Tamara Jeffrey Anne Danique

In January 2017, our research intern from Germany, Anne Bülow, started a special project within the Focus on Emotions lab (in collaboration with Laura Hull and Felicity Sedgewick, UCL, London, UK): empathy in girls with autism. Anne managed to create a team for the time-consuming task of coding hours and hours of video materials in which girls and boys, with and without autism, witnessed how the experimenter hurt herself. After two months, Anne, Danique, Jeffrey and Tamara finished their last meeting, and all codings are now entered in spss, ready to be analysed. The first outcomes of a pilot study on these data will be presented next week (24 March) at the National Autism Congress in Rotterdam.

New collaboration with Peking University on autism

pku ingrid 2 crop

In September 2016, Focus on Emotions lab (Carolien, Boya, and Marieke Bos) started a collaboration with Professor Li Yi from Developmental and Pedagogical Psychology at Peking University, China, to investigate emotion understanding in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the Netherlands and in China. This two-year joint research project is funded by The KNAW NWO China Committee, under a large-scaled China Exchange Program sponsored by the Dutch ministry of OCW (Education, Culture and Science). Dr. Ingrid d'Hooghe, the China advisor and coordinator of Leiden University, visited Professor Yi in Peking University on the 15th of November and had a joyful meeting. The two parties are both excited about this new collaboration, which may be a good start of a long-term research cooperation that not only promotes cooperative knowledge sharing but more importantly broadens and deepens our knowledge in the field of ASD research. To know more about this project, you can read the news article posted by Leiden University here (English version) or here (Dutch version).


“Attachment, Emotions, and Autism” conference held by RINO 26 September 2016
Pokémon Go new opportunity for children with autism 19 July 2016
Usability of tablets in ASD-Research 17 September 2015
ISRE - Conference on emotions 04 August 2015
Smartwatch to support children with ASD 20 July 2015
 Carolien in the media about autism 20 April 2015
 Posters presented at National Autism Conference 30 March 2015
 Kanner lecture 24 March 2015
 Understanding other minds in young children with Autism 10 January 2015
Paper in press! 12 June 2014
Congratulations Dr Lucinda! 14 January 2014
Paper accepted 18 November 2013
EmotionWeb training 02 October 2013
Autism Week 31 March 2013
ASD papers in press 23 January 2013
Award for best research paper 16 October 2012
Special issue on Social Cognitions; bullying and victimization in Autism 04 June 2012
ASD conference Toronto 18 April 2012