Orienting to social stimuli differentiates social cognitive impairment in autism and schizophrenia

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3366, USA.
Neuropsychologia (Impact Factor: 3.3). 07/2007; 45(11):2580-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.03.009
Source: PubMed


Both autism and schizophrenia feature deficits in aspects of social cognition that may be related to amygdala dysfunction, but it is unclear whether these are similar or different patterns of impairment. We compared the visual scanning patterns and emotion judgments of individuals with autism, individuals with schizophrenia and controls on a task well characterized with respect to amygdala functioning. On this task, eye movements of participants are recorded as they assess emotional content within a series of complex social scenes where faces are either included or digitally erased. Results indicated marked abnormalities in visual scanning for both disorders. Controls increased their gaze on face regions when faces were present to a significantly greater degree than both the autism or schizophrenia groups. While the control and the schizophrenia groups oriented to face regions faster when faces were present compared to when they were absent, the autism group oriented at the same rate in both conditions. The schizophrenia group, meanwhile, exhibited a delay in orienting to face regions across both conditions, although whether anti-psychotic medication contributed to this effect is unclear. These findings suggest that while processing emotional information in social scenes, both individuals with autism and individuals with schizophrenia fixate faces less than controls, although only those with autism fail to orient to faces more rapidly based on the presence of facial information. Autism and schizophrenia may therefore share an abnormality in utilizing facial information for assessing emotional content in social scenes, but differ in the ability to seek out socially relevant cues from complex stimuli. Impairments in social orienting are discussed within the context of evidence suggesting the role of the amygdala in orienting to emotionally meaningful information.

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    • "Abnormalities in social behaviors are associated with several psychiatric disorders (Couture et al., 2010; Sasson et al., 2007). An important brain region implicated in the control of innate social behaviors is the medial amygdala (MeA) (Kondo, 1992; Kondo and Arai, 1995; Lehman et al., 1980; Newman, 1999). "
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    ABSTRACT: Animals display a range of innate social behaviors that play essential roles in survival and reproduction. While the medial amygdala (MeA) has been implicated in prototypic social behaviors such as aggression, the circuit-level mechanisms controlling such behaviors are not well understood. Using cell-type-specific functional manipulations, we find that distinct neuronal populations in the MeA control different social and asocial behaviors. A GABAergic subpopulation promotes aggression and two other social behaviors, while neighboring glutamatergic neurons promote repetitive self-grooming, an asocial behavior. Moreover, this glutamatergic subpopulation inhibits social interactions independently of its effect to promote self-grooming, while the GABAergic subpopulation inhibits self-grooming, even in a nonsocial context. These data suggest that social versus repetitive asocial behaviors are controlled in an antagonistic manner by inhibitory versus excitatory amygdala subpopulations, respectively. These findings provide a framework for understanding circuit-level mechanisms underlying opponency between innate behaviors, with implications for their perturbation in psychiatric disorders.
    Cell 09/2014; 158(6):1348-61. DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2014.07.049 · 32.24 Impact Factor
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    • "A range of psychiatric disorders feature abnormal fixations onto faces, including abnormal fixations onto the eye region of faces, and several of these are hypothesized to involve the amygdala (Baron-Cohen et al., 2000, Baron-Cohen, 2004, Dalton et al., 2005). Patients with schizophrenia (Sasson et al., 2007), social phobia (Horley et al., 2004) and autism (Adolphs et al., 2001) all show abnormal facial scanning patterns. Although by no means eliminating the amygdala as one structure contributing to social dysfunction in these diseases, the data from the present study do argue that it may not play a key online role in those components involving orienting and attentional mechanisms. "
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    ABSTRACT: The amygdala is thought to play a critical role in detecting salient stimuli. Several studies have taken ecological approaches to investigating such saliency, and argue for domain-specific effects for processing certain natural stimulus categories, in particular faces and animals. Linking this to the amygdala, neurons in the human amygdala have been found to respond strongly to faces and also to animals. However, the amygdala’s necessary role for such category-specific effects at the behavioral level remains untested. Here we tested four rare patients with bilateral amygdala lesions on an established change-detection protocol. Consistent with prior published studies, healthy controls showed reliably faster and more accurate detection of people and animals, as compared with artifacts and plants. So did all four amygdala patients: there were no differences in phenomenal change blindness, in behavioral reaction time to detect changes or in eye-tracking measures. The findings provide decisive evidence against a critical participation of the amygdala in rapid initial processing of attention to animate stimuli, suggesting that the necessary neural substrates for this phenomenon arise either in other subcortical structures (such as the pulvinar) or within the cortex itself.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 05/2014; 10(3). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu065 · 7.37 Impact Factor
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    • "Additionally, children with ASC show intact ability in visual covert shifting of attention when they look at faces containing facial expressions. This confirms the evidence of an intact covert attention in individuals with autism reported in the study conducted by Sasson et al. (2007) on orienting to facial expressions and by the results assessed through visual cueing tasks (Chawarska et al., 2003; Iarocci and Burack, 2004; Kylliäinen and Hietanen, 2004; Greenaway and Plaisted, 2005; Ristic et al., 2005; Bird et al., 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: This study investigates attention orienting to social stimuli in children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) during dyadic social interactions taking place in real-life settings. We study the effect of social cues that differ in complexity and distinguish between social cues produced by facial expressions of emotion and those produced during speech. We record the children's gazes using a head-mounted eye-tracking device and report on a detailed and quantitative analysis of the motion of the gaze in response to the social cues. The study encompasses a group of children with ASC from 2 to 11-years old (n = 14) and a group of typically developing (TD) children (n = 17) between 3 and 6-years old. While the two groups orient overtly to facial expressions, children with ASC do so to a lesser extent. Children with ASC differ importantly from TD children in the way they respond to speech cues, displaying little overt shifting of attention to speaking faces. When children with ASC orient to facial expressions, they show reaction times and first fixation lengths similar to those presented by TD children. However, children with ASC orient to speaking faces slower than TD children. These results support the hypothesis that individuals affected by ASC have difficulties processing complex social sounds and detecting intermodal correspondence between facial and vocal information. It also corroborates evidence that people with ASC show reduced overt attention toward social stimuli.
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