Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Autism's Social Struggles Due To Disrupted Communication Networks In Brain

Date:
July 24, 2008
Source:
Carnegie Mellon University
Summary:
Picking up on innuendo and social cues is a central component of engaging in conversation, but people with autism often struggle to determine another person's intentions in a social interaction. New research sheds light on the neural mechanisms that are responsible for such social difficulties in autism, and on the workings of these social brain mechanisms in all of us.

Picking up on innuendo and social cues is a central component of engaging in conversation, but people with autism often struggle to determine another person's intentions in a social interaction. New research from Carnegie Mellon University sheds light on the neural mechanisms that are responsible for such social difficulties in autism, and on the workings of these social brain mechanisms in all of us.

Related Articles


According to the study, which is available on the Web site of the journal Social Neuroscience, inefficient pathways for transmitting information between certain brain regions are to blame. The research implicates abnormalities in the brain's inter-regional communication system, which connects the gray matter's computing centers.

"The communication between the frontal and posterior areas of the social brain network is impaired in autism, making it difficult to understand the intentions of others" said the study's senior author, Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

The study is the first to measure the synchronization between the brain areas that make up the Theory of Mind (ToM) network, which is responsible for processing the intentions and thoughts of others. It is the first to provide such concrete evidence of faulty social network connections.

To measure the ToM network's effectiveness, the researchers asked 12 high-functioning autistic adults and 12 control participants to view animations of interacting geometric figures, an example of which can be viewed from a link at http://www.ccbi.cmu.edu/reprints/reprints.htm.

Participants then were asked to select the word from several choices that best described the interaction. For example, a large triangle would nudge a small triangle to move outside its enclosure, and the correct word choice would be "persuading." The control subjects were consistently better at inferring the intention from the action than the participants with autism were.

While the study participants were performing the task, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activation levels in all of the cortical areas that compose the ToM network. Specifically, they simultaneously examined activation levels in several frontal and posterior brain regions to determine the synchronization levels in the network. The synchronization was reliably lower in the group with autism.

Furthermore, the autistic participants' brains showed much lower activation levels than their counterparts in the frontal regions. These measures of brain activity in autism, such as the activation level in the posterior part of the ToM network (located approximately behind one's right ear), were correlated with how well each autism participant performed in the Happe's Strange Story Test -- a pencil-and-paper assessment of an individual's understanding of non-literal statements, such as figures of speech.

"This study offers compelling evidence that a lack of synchronization in the Theory of Mind network is largely responsible for social challenges in autism," said Just, director of Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. "That evidence can provide the foundation for therapies that are more useful than current approaches."

The findings have the potential to guide the development of theoretically based interventions for autism that could target this particular shortfall, for example, by focusing on games and activities that would strengthen the connections. Eventually, it might be possible to tailor autism therapies to the brain communication deficit on a case-by-case basis. Measuring the connectivity before and after an intervention also could be used to determine effectiveness.

The research was supported by a Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism grant from NICHD and the Cure Autism Now grant awarded to the study's lead author, Rajesh K. Kana, now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Additional study co-authors include Timothy Keller, Ph.D. and Vladimir Cherkassky, Ph.D. of Carnegie Mellon and Nancy J. Minshew, M.D. of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Carnegie Mellon University. "Autism's Social Struggles Due To Disrupted Communication Networks In Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723102335.htm>.
Carnegie Mellon University. (2008, July 24). Autism's Social Struggles Due To Disrupted Communication Networks In Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723102335.htm
Carnegie Mellon University. "Autism's Social Struggles Due To Disrupted Communication Networks In Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723102335.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
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

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