Neural basis of irony comprehension in children with autism: the role of prosody and context

Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Ángeles, California, United States
Brain (Impact Factor: 10.23). 05/2006; 129(Pt 4):932-43. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awl032
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT While individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically impaired in interpreting the communicative intent of others, little is known about the neural bases of higher-level pragmatic impairments. Here, we used functional MRI (fMRI) to examine the neural circuitry underlying deficits in understanding irony in high-functioning children with ASD. Participants listened to short scenarios and decided whether the speaker was sincere or ironic. Three types of scenarios were used in which we varied the information available to guide this decision. Scenarios included (i) both knowledge of the event outcome and strong prosodic cues (sincere or sarcastic intonation), (ii) prosodic cues only or (iii) knowledge of the event outcome only. Although children with ASD performed well above chance, they were less accurate than typically developing (TD) children at interpreting the communicative intent behind a potentially ironic remark, particularly with regard to taking advantage of available contextual information. In contrast to prior research showing hypoactivation of regions involved in understanding the mental states of others, children with ASD showed significantly greater activity than TD children in the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) as well as in bilateral temporal regions. Increased activity in the ASD group fell within the network recruited in the TD group and may reflect more effortful processing needed to interpret the intended meaning of an utterance. These results confirm that children with ASD have difficulty interpreting the communicative intent of others and suggest that these individuals can recruit regions activated as part of the normative neural circuitry when task demands require explicit attention to socially relevant cues.

  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Emotional prosody perception is essential for social communication, but it is still an open issue whether children with high-function autism (HFA) exhibit any prosodic perception deficits or experience selective impairments in recognizing the prosody of positive emotions. Moreover, the associations between prosody perception, pragmatic language, and social adaptation in children with HFA have not been fully explored. This study investigated whether emotional prosody perception for words and sentences in children with HFA (n=25, 6-11 years of age) differed from age-matched, typically developing children (TD, n=25) when presented with an emotional prosody identification task. The Children's Communication Checklist and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale were used to assess pragmatic and social adaption abilities. Results show that children with HFA performed poorer than TD children in identifying happy prosody in both emotionally neutral and relevant utterances. In contrast, children with HFA did not exhibit any deficits in identifying sad and angry prosody. Results of correlation analyses revealed a positive association between happy prosody identification and pragmatic function. The findings indicate that school-aged children with HFA experience difficulties in recognizing happy prosody, and that this limitation in prosody perception is associated with their pragmatic and social adaption performances. Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Research in Developmental Disabilities 12/2014; 37C:162-170. DOI:10.1016/j.ridd.2014.11.013 · 3.40 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In using language, people not only exchange information, but also navigate their social world - for example, they can express themselves indirectly to avoid losing face. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the neural correlates of interpreting face-saving indirect replies, in a situation where participants only overheard the replies as part of a conversation between two other people, as well as in a situation where the participants were directly addressed themselves. We created a fictional job interview context where indirect replies serve as a natural communicative strategy to attenuate one's shortcomings, and asked fMRI participants to either pose scripted questions and receive answers from three putative job candidates (addressee condition) or to listen to someone else interview the same candidates (overhearer condition). In both cases, the need to evaluate the candidate ensured that participants had an active interest in comprehending the replies. Relative to direct replies, face-saving indirect replies increased activation in medial prefrontal cortex, bilateral temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), bilateral inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral middle temporal gyrus, in active overhearers and active addressees alike, with similar effect size, and comparable to findings obtained in an earlier passive listening study (Bašnáková et al., 2013). In contrast, indirectness effects in bilateral anterior insula and pregenual ACC, two regions implicated in emotional salience and empathy, were reliably stronger in addressees than in active overhearers. Our findings indicate that understanding face-saving indirect language requires additional cognitive perspective-taking and other discourse-relevant cognitive processing, to a comparable extent in active overhearers and addressees. Furthermore, they indicate that face-saving indirect language draws upon affective systems more in addressees than in overhearers, presumably because the addressee is the one being managed by a face-saving reply. In all, face-saving indirectness provides a window on the cognitive as well as affect-related neural systems involved in human communication. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Neuropsychologia 04/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.03.030 · 3.45 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Social skills training programs for autistic youths and adults exist in nearly every school district and community; these programs focus on bringing autistic people into synchronization with developmental, linguistic, and social norms. However, these norms have not been critically evaluated, and autistic people themselves have not been surveyed about their experiences of, responses to, or opinions about these programs. This study sought direct input from autistic people about these programs. Nothing About Us Without Us (NAUWU), an anonymous cross-sectional survey study, was posted online from 18 February, 2014 to 4 April, 2014, and was open to adults (18 years or older) who were formally diagnosed or self-diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. Major findings from the NAUWU study are that most of the 91 autism-specific social skills programs studied are not focused on individuals or their unique sensory and communicative needs, do not recognize participants’ existing social abilities and accomplishments, do not provide age-appropriate or gender-inclusive instruction, and do not consider or support autistic ways of learning and being social. In response to these reported shortcomings, NAUWU participants shared what they would have included, changed, or kept in the social skills training programs they attended, and what sorts of programs they would create now, looking back. These suggestions and ideas are presented in eight categories in order of prevalence and stated importance, and curriculum design suggestions are included. Key words: Autism, social skills, medicalization, social construction, deficit narratives, neurodiversity, gender diversity.
    Master's Thesis; 12/2014