Research and Frequently Asked Questions

After doing neuroscience research for more than 15 years with young people suffering from socio-emotional impairments and intellectual delay, we designed Vis-à-Vis as an intervention tool that would help our subjects to work on some of the research-supported skills that they were missing. The newly reprogrammed web-based format makes the program easily accessible to clinicians, educational aides, parents, and teachers alike.

Vis-à-Vis was developed for children and adolescents between 7 and 16 years of age, the developmental period during which face and emotion processing typically progress to adult levels. The program was created and tested in French before it was translated to English, Italian and German for the website.

Play button - Free music icons In this video, Dr. Bronwyn Glaser explains how research on developmental delays led to the creation of this valuable cognitive training tool.

In creating Vis-à-Vis, we wanted to keep our users interested by making the games intrinsically motivating. For this reason, the games rely on a computer interface and manipulation of the mouse (hand-eye coordination), direct feedback, positive reinforcement, as well as the repetition and recall of newly learned material.

Each element of Vis-à-Vis is based on research.

The Focus on the Eyes domain is inspired by a plethora of recent studies using eyetracking technology that show the importance of spending a majority of time on the eye region of a face to understand social cues[1].

Multiple research studies have shown that children with socio-emotional handicaps tend to look less at the eyes of a face than typically developing children[2][3][4], which may cause them to miss important emotional cues that are conveyed by the eyes.

A paucity of time spent on the eyes can hurt children’s inherent understanding of social situations, impair their ability to recognize emotions, increase anxiety, which in turn can damage their confidence and social-esteem.

In addition to bringing attention to the eyes, we sought to provide information and concrete strategies for dealing with socio-emotional situations, which may be less intuitive for children with intellectual handicaps.

For this reason, we teach the physiognomy of emotional facial expressions, along with examples of mental states that correspond with each emotion. The latter helps to cultivate a child’s emotional vocabulary, their empathy, and to teach them to label and process emotional cues. In a sense, it takes information that may be implicit and raises it to a conscious level. Research has shown that the simple act of acknowledging and recognizing emotion can help to calm emotional anxiety[5].

The third part of the program works on non-verbal working memory.

The prefrontal cortical regions that underlie working memory functions are some of the last to reach maturity[6], and for this reason, they also may be especially vulnerable in children with brain abnormalities.

Working memory also determines the amount of information that we have to work with while we are completing another mental transaction, like having a conversation with another person. For this reason, increasing working memory is important for improving intellectual reasoning[7].

After its creation in 2007, we piloted Vis-à-Vis in 2008 with a group of children (aged 8-10 years) affected by developmental delay to ensure that the games were set at the right difficulty level. We noticed that, as a whole, our participants especially improved their non-verbal reasoning and their emotion recognition skills after the 12-week program. They also improved on the different games that make up Vis-à-Vis during the remediation period, showing clear improvement and learning. These gains were still present six months after they finished the program.

The article from this pilot study can be downloaded here.

We subsequently completed a study using Vis-à-Vis with children and adolescents affected by autism, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, and a more general group with developmental delay. Again, participants improved their non-verbal reasoning skills and developmental delay. The participants affected by 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and autism also improved their attention and concentration. They also showed significant improvement in parent-related anxiety and internalizing behavior problems.

We are very interested in continuing to explore the clinical and research utility of Vis-à-Vis, or other research-based educational interventions and social enrichment tools. Please contact us if you are interested in including Vis-à-Vis in a research study or using the site to generate data from your group of users.

Please contact us about the possibility of adding translations to the website!

[1]Senju, A., & Johnson, M. H. (2009). The eye contact effect: Mechanisms and development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(3), 127–134.

[2]Glaser, B., Debbané, M., Ottet, M. C., Vuilleumier, P., Zesiger, P., Antonarakis, S. E., & Eliez, S. (2010). Eye gaze during face processing in children and adolescents with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(7), 665–674.

[3]Hernandez, N., Metzger, A., Magne´, R., Bonnet-Brilhault, F., Roux, S., Barthelemy, C., & Martineau, J. (2009). Exploration of core features of a human face by healthy and autistic adults analyzed by visual scanning. Neuropsychologia, 47(4), 1004–1012.

[4]Mazzola, F., Seigal, A., MacAskill, A., Corden, B., Lawrence, K., & Skuse, D. H. (2006). Eye tracking and fear recognition deficits in Turner syndrome. Social Neuroscience, 1(3–4), 259–269.

[5]Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421–428.

[6]Gogtay, N., Giedd, J. N., Lusk, L., Hayashi, K. M., Greenstein, D., Vaituzis, A. C., Nugent, T.F. 3rd, Herman, D.H., Clasen, L.S., Toga, A.W., Rapoport, J.L., Thompson, P. M. (2004). Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(21), 8174–8179.

[7]Klingberg, T., Fernell, E., Olesen, P. J., Johnson, M., Gustafsson, P., Dahlström, K., Gillberg, C.G., Forssberg, H., Westerberg, H. (2005). Computerized training of working memory in children with ADHD—A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(2), 77–186.

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