Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study: Eye contact triggers threat signals in autistic children’s brains

07.03.2005


Brain tests at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggest that autistic children shy from eye contact because they perceive even the most familiar face as an uncomfortable threat.



The work deepens understanding of an autistic brain’s function and may one day inform new treatment approaches and augment how teachers interact with their autistic students.

Tracking the correlation between eye movements and brain activity, the researchers found that in autistic subjects, the amygdala - an emotion center in the brain associated with negative feelings - lights up to an abnormal extent during a direct gaze upon a non-threatening face. Writing in the March 6 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, the scientists also report that because autistic children avert eye contact, the brain’s fusiform region, which is critical for face perception, is less active than it would be during a normally developing child’s stare.


"This is the very first published study that assesses how individuals with autism look at faces while simultaneously monitoring which of their brain areas are active," says lead author Kim Dalton, an assistant scientist at UW-Madison’s Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. Dalton measured eye movements in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a sophisticated technology that allows researchers to "see" a brain in action.

Notably, the UW-Madison study overturns the existing notion that autistic children struggle to process faces because of a malfunction in the fusiform area. Rather, in autistic children the fusiform "is fundamentally normal" and shows only stunted activity because over-aroused amygdalas make autistic children want to look away, says senior author Richard Davidson, a UW-Madison psychiatry and psychology professor who has earned international recognition for his work on the neural underpinnings of emotion.

"Imagine walking through the world and interpreting every face that looks at you as a threat, even the face of your own mother," Davidson adds. Scientists have in the past speculated that the amygdala - which has been implicated in certain anxiety and mood disorders - plays a role in autism, but the study directly supports that idea for the first time.

An increasingly publicized developmental disability, autism greatly weakens the capacity to socialize and communicate normally. The tendency to avoid eye contact is one of the most pervasive traits among autistic children, says Dalton. The characteristic is a problem because eyes, in particular, are a crucial source of "subtle cues that are critical for normal social and emotional development," Dalton says.

Dalton’s work comprised two studies. In the first, researchers placed autistic children inside an MRI scanner and showed them pictures of faces with both emotional and neutral expressions. The children had to press one of two buttons to indicate whether a face showed a blank or expressive face. Throughout the process, the researchers used precise eye-tracking technology to measure exactly which parts of the face study participants were looking at and for how long. Normally developing children far outpaced the autistic study participants in identifying expressions correctly.

During the second study, the researchers again placed subjects in MRI machines and showed them photographs of both familiar and unfamiliar faces. They monitored eye movements and brain activity, and once again, autistic subjects performed considerably more poorly than normally developing participants.

In the future, the findings could help scientists "train autistic children to look at a person’s eye region in a more strategic way, like when the person may not be looking directly at them," says Davidson. Researchers eventually could assess whether such approaches improve the ability to make eye contact and whether they might even induce positive developmental changes in the brain.

Because autism is more inheritable than any other psychiatric condition, researchers also could start to explore the genetic mechanisms underlying hyperactive amygdalas - "a completely uncharted research territory," says Davidson. And if the autistic amygdala is found to be overactive from infancy, the knowledge could help doctors implement intervention approaches right from an early age.

Kim Dalton | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>