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Brain Activation During Joint Social Interactions in Autism



Joint attention (or the coordination of attention by two people on an object) is:

  • a critical skill in early social and language learning
  • discriminative of autism from other developmental disorders
  • predictive of developmental outcome in children with autism pervasively impaired in children with autism.

Despite the importance of this critical skill, almost nothing is known about its neural correlates in typical populations or those with autism.

experiment model

  • Participants interacted with an experimenter through real-time live video feed
  • Participants played a game that required them to either cue their partner (or be cued by their partner) as to where a mouse was located on the screen
  • These joint attention conditions were compared to a nonsocial solo attention control condition

  • Neurotypical participants recruited brain regions associated with social-cognitive and attentional processing more in joint, than solo, attention conditions
  • Individuals with autism showed reduced neural differentiation between conditions, which was due to relative hyper-activation in the solo attention condition in these same areas
  • These findings suggest a failure of neural developmental specialization, which have implications for understanding the etiology and treatment of autism


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