The Female Variation of Autism Spectrum Disorder - An fMRI Study
Objective: Despite the fact that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common psychiatric issue and an abundance of research is available, knowledge about special symptomatic and behavioral features in respect to the female sex/gender is still scarce. The present study ‘The Female Variation of Autism...
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|Summary:||Objective: Despite the fact that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common psychiatric issue and an abundance of research is available, knowledge about special symptomatic and behavioral features in respect to the female sex/gender is still scarce. The present study ‘The Female Variation of Autism Spectrum Disorder - An fMRI Study’ aimed to investigate neural correlates of recognition and interpretation of complex social emotions in women and girls with ASD and compare results to typically developed girls and women.
Participants & study procedure: Groups of 9 female individuals with high functioning ASD and 9 healthy female controls were compared during two fMRI paradigms, one examining physical pain and one investigating 'social pain' in form of the complex social emotion of empathic embarrassment. Participants were asked to rate multiple pictures according to how physically painful they thought a situation was for another person or to how embarrassed they thought a depicted protagonist felt in either a situation, in which he/she was aware of the embarrassment, or a scenario, in which the target person was not aware of the fact that something embarrassing was happening.
Results: Comparing the healthy control group with the individuals affected by ASD, no differences in their judgment and therefore their ratings towards the levels of physical pain were found. However, the fMRI scans showed lower activation of the anterior insula and brainstem in subjects affected by autism compared to controls. For the socially painful situations, there was a significant difference between groups especially for the stimuli depicting unaware embarrassment situations, with typically developed females rating these scenarios as less embarrassing while ratings of girls with ASD remaining high, suggesting they had difficulties taking on the other person's perspective. On a neural level, compared to controls the ASD-group exhibited lower activation of the left insula, an important part of the brain’s network for processing social-emotional clues.
Conclusion: Females with high functioning ASD are able to distinguish physically and socially painful situations as such. Their brain scans show signs of vicariously experienced emotions by activation of neural pathways known to process social-emotional matters. However, the neural activation of some important regions, especially the anterior insula, is less intense than in healthy controls. This suggests that individuals with ASD have difficulties entirely taking over a person's perspective and realizing that someone can't feel embarrassed about something he/she is not aware of.|