Why eye contact is rare among people with autism
Abstract: During eye contact, individuals with ASD have significantly reduced activity in the dorsal parietal cortex compared to those not on the autism spectrum.
A hallmark of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, is reluctance to make eye contact with others in natural conditions.
Although eye contact is a critically important part of everyday interaction, scientists have been limited in studying the neurological basis of live eye contact social interaction in ASD due to the inability to simultaneously image the brains of two people.
However, using innovative technology that allows imaging of two people over a lifetime and under natural conditions, Yale researchers have identified specific brain areas in the dorsal parietal region of the brain associated with the social symptomatology of autism.
The study, published Nov. 9 in the journal VERY ONEreveals that these neural responses to a live face and eye contact may provide a biomarker for the diagnosis of ASD as well as a test of the effectiveness of autism treatments.
“Our brains are hungry for information about other people, and we need to understand how these social mechanisms work in real-world and interactive contexts in both typically developing individuals and individuals with ASD,” said co-authors Joy Hirsch, Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson. , professor of psychiatry, comparative medicine and neuroscience at Yale.
The Yale team, led by Hirsch and James McPartland, the Harris Professor at the Yale Child Study Center, analyzed brain activity during brief social interactions between pairs of adults — each including a typical participant and one with ASD — using functional near-infrared spectroscopy , a non-invasive optical neuroimaging method.
Both participants were fitted with caps with many sensors that emitted light into the brain and also recorded changes in light signals with information about brain activity during face viewing and eye-to-eye contact.
The researchers found that during eye contact, participants with ASD had significantly reduced activity in a brain region called the dorsal parietal cortex compared to those without ASD.
Furthermore, the more severe the overall social symptoms of ASD as measured by ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2.n.d Edition), less activity was observed in this region of the brain. Neural activity in these regions was synchronous between typical participants during actual eye-to-eye contact but not during viewing of a video face.
This typical increase in neural coupling was not observed in ASD and is consistent with difficulties in social interactions.
“We now not only have a better understanding of the neurobiology of autism and social differences, but also the underlying neural mechanisms that drive typical social connections,” Hirsch said.
About this autism research news
Original research: Findings will appear in VERY ONE