Diana S Cortes, porträtt. Foto: Niklas Björling

Diana Persson


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Works at Department of Psychology
Telephone 08-16 38 79
Visiting address Frescati hagväg 14
Room 121
Postal address Psykologiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

I did my undergraduate education in Mexico and obtained my bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology. In 2013 I received my master’s degree in Psychology at Stockholm University. My main interest is affective neuroscience. My research focus is on how we recognize emotions through facial and vocal expressions, both separately and combined. I am specially interested in clinical trials and applying a developmental approach into my research. 


I teach lectures on both the Psychology programme and in independent courses. Some of the topics I teach about are the effects of oxytocin, adult aging, personality development and measurement, methods, and emotion recognition at undergraduate level. I also conduct lab-experience classes, where the goal is to design experiments and supervise smaller groups. If you are interested to write an essay within my research area you are welcome to email me to discuss your ideas (in either Swedish or English).


My research focus is on how we recognize emotions through facial and vocal expressions, both separately and combined. I am interested in how factors such as aging, gender, hormones, genes, treatment, and brain activity interact. I also study social-emotional memory as well as how we assess social characteristics such as attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness, and the like through facial expressions. To address these issues, we use behavioral and brain activity methods as well as a developmental approach.

One of the mayor projects in which I am involved is about the effects of oxytocin, socio-emotional behavior and brain function in younger and older adults. In this clinical trial study we investigate whether oxytocin facilitates the recognition of emotions from others. Another project in which I am involved is exploring whether oxytocin enhances the occurrence and affects the quality of spiritual experiences and the sensed presence of a sentient being. I am also collaborating on a project about training psychology students to improve their emotional recognition skills and its effects in the brain. I am particularly interested in conducting interdisciplinary research where I can combine a variety of research methods. 


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2019. Diana S. Cortes (et al.). Psychology and Aging 34 (5), 686-697

    In everyday life throughout the life span, people frequently evaluate faces to obtain information crucial for social interactions. We investigated age-related differences in judgments of a wide range of social attributes based on facial appearance. Seventy-one younger and 60 older participants rated 196 computer-generated faces that systematically varied in facial features such as shape and reflectance to convey different intensity levels of seven social attributes (i.e., attractiveness, competence, dominance, extraversion, likeability, threat, and trustworthiness). Older compared to younger participants consistently gave higher attractiveness ratings to faces representing both high and low levels of attractiveness. Older participants were also less sensitive to the likeability of faces and tended to evaluate faces representing low likeability as more likable. The age groups did, however, not differ substantially in their evaluations of the other social attributes. Results are in line with previous research showing that aging is associated with preference toward positive and away from negative information and extend this positivity effect to social perception of faces.

  • Kristoffer N.T. Månsson (et al.).

    Brain morphology change over the course of weeks, days, and hours, and can be detected by non-invasive structural magnetic resonance imaging. Rapid morphological changes at scanning has yet not been investigated. In a randomized within-group study, high-resolution anatomical images were acquired during passive viewing of pictures or a fixation cross. Forty-seven individuals gray matter volume and cortical thickness were investigated, and both measures 20 increased in the visual cortex while viewing pictures relative to a fixation cross. Thus, brain morphology enlargements were detected in less than 263 seconds. Neuroplasticity is a far more dynamic process than previously shown, suggesting that individuals’ current mental state affects indices of brain morphology. This needs to be taken into account in future morphology studies and in everyday clinical practice.

  • 2018. Diana S. Cortes (et al.). Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 13 (9), 921-932

    Intranasal oxytocin (OT) has previously been found to increase spirituality, an effect moderated by OT-related genotypes. This pre-registered study sought to conceptually replicate and extend those findings. Using a single dose of intranasal OT vs placebo (PL), we investigated experimental treatment effects, and moderation by OT-related genotypes on spirituality, mystical experiences, and the sensed presence of a sentient being. A more exploratory aim was to test for interactions between treatment and the personality disposition absorption on these spirituality-related outcomes. A priming plus sensory deprivation procedure that has facilitated spiritual experiences in previous studies was used. The sample (N = 116) contained both sexes and was drawn from a relatively secular context. Results failed to conceptually replicate both the main effects of treatment and the treatment by genotype interactions on spirituality. Similarly, there were no such effects on mystical experiences or sensed presence. However, the data suggested an interaction between treatment and absorption. Relative to PL, OT seemed to enhance spiritual experiences in participants scoring low in absorption and dampen spirituality in participants scoring high in absorption.

  • 2017. Diana S. Cortes (et al.). PLoS ONE 12 (6)

    We investigated how memory for faces and voices (presented separately and in combination) varies as a function of sex and emotional expression (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and neutral). At encoding, participants judged the expressed emotion of items in forced-choice tasks, followed by incidental Remember/Know recognition tasks. Results from 600 participants showed that accuracy (hits minus false alarms) was consistently higher for neutral compared to emotional items, whereas accuracy for specific emotions varied across the presentation modalities (i.e., faces, voices, and face-voice combinations). For the subjective sense of recollection (“remember” hits), neutral items received the highest hit rates only for faces, whereas for voices and face-voice combinations anger and fear expressions instead received the highest recollection rates. We also observed better accuracy for items by female expressers, and own-sex bias where female participants displayed memory advantage for female faces and face-voice combinations. Results further suggest that own-sex bias can be explained by recollection, rather than familiarity, rates. Overall, results show that memory for faces and voices may be influenced by the expressions that they carry, as well as by the sex of both items and participants. Emotion expressions may also enhance the subjective sense of recollection without enhancing memory accuracy.

  • 2018. Daniel Hovey (et al.). Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 13 (2), 173-181

    The ability to correctly understand the emotional expression of another person is essential for social relationships and appears to be a partly inherited trait. The neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin have been shown to influence this ability as well as face processing in humans. Here, recognition of the emotional content of faces and voices, separately and combined, was investigated in 492 subjects, genotyped for 25 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in eight genes encoding proteins important for oxytocin and vasopressin neurotransmission. The SNP rs4778599 in the gene encoding aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator 2 (ARNT2), a transcription factor that participates in the development of hypothalamic oxytocin and vasopressin neurons, showed an association that survived correction for multiple testing with emotion recognition of audio–visual stimuli in women (n = 309). This study demonstrates evidence for an association that further expands previous findings of oxytocin and vasopressin involvement in emotion recognition.

  • 2018. Diana S. Cortes (et al.).

    Findings suggest that intranasal administration of oxytocin improves emotion recognition. The brain mechanisms underlying these effects, however, are underexplored. A major caveat in this line of work is that it is almost exclusively based on young males, which limits current knowledge and potential for generalizability across gender and age. Adopting an adult developmental approach, the present research addresses this research gap by determining the effects of a single-dose intranasal oxytocin administration on recognition of positive and negative stimuli in younger and older men and women. Utilizing a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects study design, 44 younger (mean age 25, 50% women) and 44 older (mean 70, 50% women) healthy adults participated in two fMRI sessions during which they viewed dynamic videoclips of positive and negative emotions displayed. Forty minutes before scanning, participants either self-administered 40 IUs of oxytocin or placebo.

  • 2018. Kristoffer Månsson (et al.).

    Introduction: The hormone and neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) is suggested to be a crucial chemical modulator of social behavior, and exogenous intranasal oxytocin administration has been proposed as a potential treatment for affective and social deficits. Animal studies have found that repeated administration of OT induced cellular changes in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus complex (Sanchez-Vidana et al., 2016). To test this modulatory role of OT on brain structure in humans, we pooled data from three independent double-blind placebo-controlled OT studies that included structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), one study with repeated doses over time (repeated) and two studies with single dose (acute) oxytocin administration.

    Methods: The first analytic step included data from 25 older individuals (61-84y) who were exposed to four weeks of intranasal (24 IUs twice a day) administration of OT or placebo (P) and who underwent 3T-MRI before and after this intervention. The second analytic step included data from a total of 191 younger (18-31y) and older (63-81y) individuals from two similar studies administering a single-dose of OT (24 and 40 IUs respectively) and a single 3T-MRI session (scanning was performed about 40 minutes after the OT or P administration). Grey matter (GM) volume was assessed on T1-weighted anatomical images using automated tools (i.e., CAT12/SPM12). We applied total intracranial volume, sex, and education as covariates of no interest and hippocampus voxel-wise analyses were small volume corrected with a family-wise error (FWE) to determine statistical significance. A portion of the analyses were performed blindly, i.e., the researchers were not aware of the assigned group labels (OT vs. P).

    Results: First, a group x time interaction (xyz[–16,–10,–22], Z=4.40, pFWE=.005) suggested that repeated administration of OT in older adults showed no significant change in left hippocampal GM volume (trend toward increase), whereas the P group showed significant reduction in left hippocampal GM volume over time. Second, the acute effect of a single dose of OT showed reduction in left hippocampal GM volume after OT relative to P administration (xyz[–22,–12,–22], Z=2.96, pFWE=.023), i.e. the acute findings were reversed within the same hippocampal region compared to the findings after repeated administration.

    Conclusions: These results provide first evidence of an opposite effect in hippocampus GM volume after acute and repeated administration of OT. This points towards a potential mechanism wherein hippocampal GM volume shows rapid reduction after a single dose, but stable (and potentially greater) GM volume after repeated exposure to OT. Thus, hippocampus may be a key target of OT's modulatory potential on the human brain. Future studies should assess both acute and long-lasting effects of OT administration on brain structures and links to behavior, affect, and quality of life. This approach could advance our understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms of OT as a potential treatment for affective and social deficits.

  • 2016. Sara Karlsson (et al.). Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 11 (6), 877-883

    The ability to recognize the identity of faces and voices is essential for social relationships. Although the heritability of social memory is high, knowledge about the contributing genes is sparse. Since sex differences and rodent studies support an influence of estrogens and androgens on social memory, polymorphisms in the estrogen and androgen receptor genes (ESR1, ESR2, AR) are candidates for this trait. Recognition of faces and vocal sounds, separately and combined, was investigated in 490 subjects, genotyped for 10 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in ESR1, four in ESR2 and one in the AR. Four of the associations survived correction for multiple testing: women carrying rare alleles of the three ESR2 SNPs, rs928554, rs1271572 and rs1256030, in linkage disequilibrium with each other, displayed superior face recognition compared with non-carriers. Furthermore, the uncommon genotype of the ESR1 SNP rs2504063 was associated with better recognition of identity through vocal sounds, also specifically in women. This study demonstrates evidence for associations in women between face recognition and variation in ESR2, and recognition of identity through vocal sounds and variation in ESR1. These results suggest that estrogen receptors may regulate social memory function in humans, in line with what has previously been established in mice.

  • 2015. Susanne Henningsson (et al.). Frontiers in Neuroscience 9

    Social memory, including the ability to recognize faces and voices, is essential for social relationships. It has a large heritable component, but the knowledge about the contributing genes is sparse. The genetic variation underlying inter-individual differences in social memory was investigated in an exploratory sample (n = 55), genotyped with a chip comprising approximately 200,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and in a validation sample (n = 582), where 30 SNPs were targeted. In the exploratory study face identity recognition was measured. The validation study also measured vocal sound recognition, as well as recognition of faces and vocal sounds combined (multimodal condition). In the exploratory study, the 30 SNPs that were associated with face recognition at puncorrected < 0.001 and located in genes, were chosen for further study. In the validation study two of these SNPs showed significant associations with recognition of faces, vocal sounds, and multimodal stimuli: rs1800779 in the gene encoding nitric oxide synthase 3 (NOS3) and rs3807370 in the gene encoding the voltage-gated channel, subfamily H, member 2 (KCNH2), in strong linkage disequilibrium with each other. The uncommon alleles were associated with superior performance, and the effects were present for men only (p < 0.0002). The exploratory study also showed a weaker but significant association with (non-emotional) word recognition, an effect that was independent of the effect on face recognition. This study demonstrates evidence for an association between NOS3 and KCNH2SNPs and social memory.

  • 2019. Lillian Döllinger (et al.).

    This study presents findings about the effectiveness of two computerized training-programs for emotion recognition accuracy that were evaluated in a double-blind randomized controlled study with repeated measures design. Both trainings are effective in training emotion recognition accuracy. The trainings and results are presented in detail and practical implications are discussed.

Show all publications by Diana Persson at Stockholm University

Last updated: October 5, 2020

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