Neurobiological foundations of self-conscious emotion understanding in adolescents with ASD
2015 Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship
A recent two-hit model of autism suggests adolescents with ASD experience a new wave of major impairments in social cognition and peer interactions, amplified by rapid neural development and socioaffective changes related to puberty. While there is extensive research on foundational social emotional processes during infancy and childhood in ASD, complex social cognition in adolescence has received little attention. Further, the role of hormones in social cognition and ASD is of increasing interest. This project will characterize the subjective and neurobiological substrates of self-conscious emotion (SCE) understanding in ASD during adolescence. Adolescent males (25 ASD, 25 NT, ages 12-16) will complete a validated Self-Conscious Emotions Task. During an MRI scan, they will watch videos of peers experiencing embarrassment and pride with varying perspective-taking (PT) demands. To assess baseline testosterone (T), saliva samples will be collected. Youth with ASD likely will: i) show atypical SCE understanding, especially when PT demands are high, and ii) recruit atypical medial prefrontal, insular, and temporal parietal regions underlying self-reflection, PT, and empathy. The role of T in SCEs will also be explored. Higher baseline T likely will correlate with lower SCE understanding and hypoactivation of related regions. Results will shed light on the neurobiological bases of atypical social cognition in ASD and inform social-cognitive and hormone-based interventions.
Grant Term:2 years
Award Type:Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship