Håkan Fischer Foto: Psykologiska institutionen/HD

Håkan Fischer


Visa sidan på svenska
Works at Department of Psychology
Telephone 08-16 23 57
Visiting address Albanovägen 12
Postal address Psykologiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

Since 2011 I am the chair professor of Human Biological Psychology and head of the division of Biological psychology at the department. I was head of the Department of Psychology between 2015 and 2021.  I am also associate professor at Karolinska Institutet (KI), affiliated with Aging Research Center at KI and Stockholm University Brain Imaging Centre (SUBIC), and a faculty member of Digital Future which is a cross disciplinary research center located at Royal Institute for Technology in Stockholm (KTH).

I am currently supervising seven doctoral students. I have regularly since 2002 received funding as principal investigator, primarily from the Swedish Research Council, but also from The Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and Konung Gustav V:s och Drottning Victorias Stiftelse.


I teach regularly at the undergraduate and advanced level primarily in Biological psychology and Emotion psychology, typically with a focus on the interaction between brain and behavior.


My scientific work has resulted in 120+ research articles published in or submitted to peer-reviewed journals. My research publictions have been cited around 10 000 times in international scientific journals and has an h-index of 48 and an i10-index of 95. I have also served on numerous half-time and doctoral dissertation examination committees, and as reviewer for a number of international peer-reviewed journals.

I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and functional near-infrared optical brain imaging (FNIRS) to study brain function and structural MRI to study brain structure (T1, DTI and perfusion). I collaborate both nationally and internationally with other researchers and is involved in ongoing projects in Sweden, Germany and USA.

My primary area of research is individual differences in cognitive, affective and perceptual processing and the relation to brain function, with a specific focus on adult aging differences. Current research lines are:

1. Studies of the effect of oxytocin on socio-emotional processing and its neurobiological basis in younger and older adults together with researchers at Stockholm university (SU), University of Florida (UF) and University of Gothenburg,

2. Studies of individual differences in recognition of socio-emotional information and training of the ability to detect socio-emotional information together with researchers at SU and UF.

3. Studies of rapid brain plasticity in relation to brain function during perceptual, cognitive and affective processing together with researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Max Planck Institute Berlin.

4. Development of Artificial intelligence (AI) that accurately can read and interpret emotional expressions in faces and voices together with researchers at Departments of Psychology at SU and UF, Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH) and Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE).

The Fischer Lab.

My page on Research Gate.

Manuscripts under review and under revision

Lin, T., Pehlivanoglu, D., Ziaei, M., Liu, P., Woods, A., Feifel, D., Fischer, H., & Ebner, N.C. (under review). Age-Related Differences in Amygdala Activation Associated with Face Trustworthiness but No Evidence of Oxytocin Modulation.

Olivo, G., Lövdén, M., Manzouri, A., Terlau, L., Jenner, B., Jafari, A., Petersson, S., Li, T.-Q., Fischer, H., & Månsson, K.N.T. (under review). Estimated gray matter volume rapidly changes after a short motor task.

Nilsonne, G., Schwarz, J., Kecklund, G., Petrovic, P., Fischer, H., Åkerstedt, T., Lekander, M., & Tamm, S. (under review). Empirical evidence for a three-level model of emotional contagion, empathy and emotional regulation. Preprint:


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2021. Lillian Döllinger (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 12

    Nonverbal emotion recognition accuracy (ERA) is a central feature of successful communication and interaction, and is of importance for many professions. We developed and evaluated two ERA training programs—one focusing on dynamic multimodal expressions (audio, video, audio-video) and one focusing on facial micro expressions. Sixty-seven subjects were randomized to one of two experimental groups (multimodal, micro expression) or an active control group (emotional working memory task). Participants trained once weekly with a brief computerized training program for three consecutive weeks. Pre-post outcome measures consisted of a multimodal ERA task, a micro expression recognition task, and a task about patients' emotional cues. Post measurement took place approximately a week after the last training session. Non-parametric mixed analyses of variance using the Aligned Rank Transform were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the training programs. Results showed that multimodal training was significantly more effective in improving multimodal ERA compared to micro expression training or the control training; and the micro expression training was significantly more effective in improving micro expression ERA compared to the other two training conditions. Both pre-post effects can be interpreted as large. No group differences were found for the outcome measure about recognizing patients' emotion cues. There were no transfer effects of the training programs, meaning that participants only improved significantly for the specific facet of ERA that they had trained on. Further, low baseline ERA was associated with larger ERA improvements. Results are discussed with regard to methodological and conceptual aspects, and practical implications and future directions are explored.

  • 2021. Diana S. Cortes (et al.). Scientific Reports 11 (1)

    Age-related differences in emotion recognition have predominantly been investigated using static pictures of facial expressions, and positive emotions beyond happiness have rarely been included. The current study instead used dynamic facial and vocal stimuli, and included a wider than usual range of positive emotions. In Task 1, younger and older adults were tested for their abilities to recognize 12 emotions from brief video recordings presented in visual, auditory, and multimodal blocks. Task 2 assessed recognition of 18 emotions conveyed by non-linguistic vocalizations (e.g., laughter, sobs, and sighs). Results from both tasks showed that younger adults had significantly higher overall recognition rates than older adults. In Task 1, significant group differences (younger > older) were only observed for the auditory block (across all emotions), and for expressions of anger, irritation, and relief (across all presentation blocks). In Task 2, significant group differences were observed for 6 out of 9 positive, and 8 out of 9 negative emotions. Overall, results indicate that recognition of both positive and negative emotions show age-related differences. This suggests that the age-related positivity effect in emotion recognition may become less evident when dynamic emotional stimuli are used and happiness is not the only positive emotion under study.

  • 2021. Julian Koenig (et al.). Psychophysiology 58 (7)

    Understanding the association between autonomic nervous system [ANS] function and brain morphology across the lifespan provides important insights into neurovisceral mechanisms underlying health and disease. Resting-state ANS activity, indexed by measures of heart rate [HR] and its variability [HRV] has been associated with brain morphology, particularly cortical thickness [CT]. While findings have been mixed regarding the anatomical distribution and direction of the associations, these inconsistencies may be due to sex and age differences in HR/HRV and CT. Previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes, which impede the assessment of sex differences and aging effects on the association between ANS function and CT. To overcome these limitations, 20 groups worldwide contributed data collected under similar protocols of CT assessment and HR/HRV recording to be pooled in a mega-analysis (N = 1,218 (50.5% female), mean age 36.7 years (range: 12–87)). Findings suggest a decline in HRV as well as CT with increasing age. CT, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex, explained additional variance in HRV, beyond the effects of aging. This pattern of results may suggest that the decline in HRV with increasing age is related to a decline in orbitofrontal CT. These effects were independent of sex and specific to HRV; with no significant association between CT and HR. Greater CT across the adult lifespan may be vital for the maintenance of healthy cardiac regulation via the ANS—or greater cardiac vagal activity as indirectly reflected in HRV may slow brain atrophy. Findings reveal an important association between CT and cardiac parasympathetic activity with implications for healthy aging and longevity that should be studied further in longitudinal research.

  • 2020. Tian Lin (et al.). Cognition and Emotion 34 (5), 875-889

    Face attractiveness can influence memory for previously seen faces. This effect has been shown to differ for young and older perceivers. Two parallel studies examined the moderation of both the age of the face and the age of the perceiver on the relationship between facial attractiveness and face memory. Study 1 comprised 29 young and 31 older participants; Study 2 comprised 25 young and 24 older participants. In both studies, participants completed an incidental face encoding and a surprise old/new recognition test with young and older faces that varied in face attractiveness. Face attractiveness affected memory for young but not older faces. In addition, young but not older perceivers showed a linear effect of facial attractiveness on memory for young faces, while both young and older perceivers showed a quadratic effect on memory for young faces. These findings extend previous work by demonstrating that the effect of facial attractiveness on face memory is a function of both the age of the perceiver and the age of the face. Factors that could account for such moderations of face and perceiver age on the associations between face attractiveness and face memory are discussed (e.g. age differences in social goals and face similarity/distinctiveness).

  • Diana Cortes S. (et al.).

    Age-related differences in emotion recognition have predominantly been investigated usingstatic pictures of facial expressions. Previous studies have also mainly studied recognition ofnegative emotions, and positive emotions beyond happiness have rarely been included. Thecurrent study instead used dynamic facial and vocal stimuli, and included a wider than usualrange of positive emotions. In Task 1, younger and older adults were tested for their abilities torecognize 12 positive and negative emotions from brief video recordings presented in visual,auditory and multimodal blocks. Task 2 assessed recognition of 18 positive and negativeemotions conveyed by non-linguistic vocalizations (e.g., laughter, sobs, and sighs). Resultsfrom both tasks showed that younger adults had higher overall recognition rates than olderadults. In Task 1, significant age-related differences (younger > older) were only observed inthe auditory condition, and for relief, anger, and irritation. In Task 2, significant groupdifferences were instead observed for most of the emotions. Overall, results indicate thatrecognition of both positive and negative emotions show age-related differences. This suggeststhat the age-related positivity effect in emotion recognition may become less evident whendynamic emotional stimuli are used and happiness is not the only positive emotion under study.

  • 2020. Monroe P. Turner (et al.). NeuroImage 206

    Facial recognition ability declines in adult aging, but the neural basis for this decline remains unknown. Cortical areas involved in face recognition exhibit lower dopamine (DA) receptor availability and lower blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal during task performance with advancing adult age. We hypothesized that changes in the relationship between these two neural systems are related to age differences in face-recognition ability. To test this hypothesis, we leveraged positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure D1 receptor binding potential (BPND) and BOLD signal during face-recognition performance. Twenty younger and 20 older participants performed a face-recognition task during fMRI scanning. Face recognition accuracy was lower in older than in younger adults, as were D1 BPND and BOLD signal across the brain. Using linear regression, significant relationships between DA and BOLD were found in both age-groups in face-processing regions. Interestingly, although the relationship was positive in younger adults, it was negative in older adults (i.e., as D1 BPND decreased, BOLD signal increased). Ratios of BOLD:D1 BPND were calculated and relationships to face-recognition performance were tested. Multiple linear regression revealed a significant Group x BOLD:D1 BPND Ratio interaction. These results suggest that, in the healthy system, synchrony between neurotransmitter (DA) and hemodynamic (BOLD) systems optimizes the level of BOLD activation evoked for a given DA input (i.e., the gain parameter of the DA input-neural activation function), facilitating task performance. In the aged system, however, desynchronization between these brain systems would reduce the gain parameter of this function, adversely impacting task performance and contributing to reduced face recognition in older adults.

  • 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.

  • 2019. Kristoffer N. T. Månsson (et al.). Cerebral Cortex

    Measuring brain morphology with non-invasive structural magnetic resonance imaging is common practice, and can be used to investigate neuroplasticity. Brain morphology changes have been reported over the course of weeks, days, and hours in both animals and humans. If such short-term changes occur even faster, rapid morphological changes while being scanned could have important implications. In a randomized within-subject study on 47 healthy individuals, two high-resolution T1-weighted anatomical images were acquired (á 263 s) per individual. The images were acquired during passive viewing of pictures or a fixation cross. Two common pipelines for analyzing brain images were used: voxel-based morphometry on gray matter (GM) volume and surface-based cortical thickness. We found that the measures of both GM volume and cortical thickness showed increases in the visual cortex while viewing pictures relative to a fixation cross. The increase was distributed across the two hemispheres and significant at a corrected level. Thus, brain morphology enlargements were detected in less than 263 s. 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.

  • 2019. Andreas Gerhardsson (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 10

    Background: Older adults perform better in tasks which include positive stimuli, referred to as the positivity effect. However, recent research suggests that the positivity effect could be attenuated when additional challenges such as stress or cognitive demands are introduced. Moreover, it is well established that older adults are relatively resilient to many of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. Our aim was to investigate if the positivity effect in older adults is affected by one night of total sleep deprivation using an emotional working memory task.

    Methods: A healthy sample of 48 older adults (60-72 years) was either sleep deprived for one night (n = 24) or had a normal night's sleep (n = 24). They performed an emotional working memory n-back (n = 1 and 3) task containing positive, negative and neutral pictures.

    Results: Performance in terms of accuracy and reaction times was best for positive stimuli and worst for negative stimuli. This positivity effect was not altered by sleep deprivation. Results also showed that, despite significantly increased sleepiness, there was no effect of sleep deprivation on working memory performance. A working memory load x valence interaction on the reaction times revealed that the beneficial effect of positive stimuli was only present in the 1-back condition.

    Conclusion: While the positivity effect and general working memory abilities in older adults are intact after one night of sleep deprivation, increased cognitive demand attenuates the positivity effect on working memory speed.

  • 2019. Andreas Gerhardsson (et al.). Journal of Sleep Research 28 (1)

    The emotional dysregulation and impaired working memory found after sleep loss can have severe implications for our daily functioning. Considering the intertwined relationship between emotion and cognition in stimuli processing, there could be further implications of sleep deprivation in high‐complex emotional situations. Although studied separately, this interaction between emotion and cognitive processes has been neglected in sleep research. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of 1 night of sleep deprivation on emotional working memory. Sixty‐one healthy participants (mean age: 23.4 years) were either sleep deprived for 1 night (n = 30) or had a normal night’s sleep (n = 31). They performed an N‐back task with two levels of working memory load (1‐back and 3‐back) using positive, neutral and negative picture scenes. Sleep deprivation, compared with full night sleep, impaired emotional working memory accuracy, but not reaction times. The sleep‐deprived participants, but not the controls, responded faster to positive than to negative and neutral pictures. The effect of sleep deprivation was similar for both high and low working memory loads. The results showed that although detrimental in terms of accuracy, sleep deprivation did not impair working memory speed. In fact, our findings indicate that positive stimuli may facilitate working memory processing speed after sleep deprivation.

Show all publications by Håkan Fischer at Stockholm University

Last updated: October 12, 2021

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