Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A Frown Or A Smile? Children With Autism Can't Discern

Date:
May 7, 2007
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
When we have a conversation with someone, we not only hear what they say, we see what they say. Eyes can smolder or twinkle. Gazes can be direct or shifty. "Reading" these facial expressions gives context and meaning to the words we hear. Children with autism can't do this. They hear and they see, of course, but according to new research, the areas of the brain that normally respond to such visual cues simply do not respond.

When we have a conversation with someone, we not only hear what they say, we see what they say. Eyes can smolder or twinkle. Gazes can be direct or shifty. "Reading" these facial expressions gives context and meaning to the words we hear.

In a report presented May 5 at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Seatlle, researchers from UCLA explained that children with autism can't do this. They hear and they see, of course, but the areas of the brain that normally respond to such visual cues simply do not respond.

Led by Mari Davies, a UCLA graduate student in psychology, and Susan Bookheimer, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, the research compared brain activity between 16 typically developing children and 16 high-functioning children with autism. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), both groups were shown a series of faces depicting angry, fearful, happy and neutral expressions. In half the faces, the eyes were averted; with the other half, the faces stared back at the children.

With the typically developing group, the researchers found significant differences in activity in a part of the brain called the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), which is known to play a role in evaluating emotions. While these children looked at the direct-gaze faces, the VLPFC became active; with the averted-gaze pictures, it quieted down. In contrast, the autistic children showed no activity in this region of the brain whether they were looking at faces with a direct or an indirect gaze.

"This part of the brain helps us discern the meaning and significance of what another person is thinking," Davies said. "When responding to someone looking straight at you, as compared to someone who's looking away, the brain discerns a difference. When the other person looks away, the brain quiets down."

For instance, with angry expressions, the brain may quiet down, because when a negative gaze is averted, it is no longer seen as a direct threat. "Gaze has a huge impact on our brains because it conveys part of the meaning of that expression to the individual. It cues the individual to what is significant," Davies said.

While the results show the key role of eye gaze in signaling communicative intent, it also shows that autistic children, even when gazing directly into someone's eyes, don't recognize visual cues and don't process that information. That may be why children diagnosed with autism have varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and display restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

"They don't pick up what's going on -- they miss the nuances, the body language and facial expressions and sometimes miss the big picture and instead focus on minor, less socially relevant details," Davies said. "That, in turn, affects interpersonal bonds."

The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Other study authors include Mirella Dapretto, Marian Sigman and Leigh Sepeta.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "A Frown Or A Smile? Children With Autism Can't Discern." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 May 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070505164645.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2007, May 7). A Frown Or A Smile? Children With Autism Can't Discern. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070505164645.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "A Frown Or A Smile? Children With Autism Can't Discern." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070505164645.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins