Wang AT, Lee SS, Sigman M, Dapretto M. Neural basis of irony comprehension in children with autism: the role of prosody and context. Brain 129(Part 4): 932-943

Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Ángeles, California, United States
Brain (Impact Factor: 9.2). 05/2006; 129(Pt 4):932-43. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awl032
Source: PubMed


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.

Download full-text


Available from: Mirella Dapretto,
  • Source
    • "familiar metaphors and familiar literals expressions). Most studies that focused on irony in ASD have examined children and adolescents (Mackay and Shaw, 2004; Pexman et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2006) and only a few included adults (Martin and McDonald, 2003; Saban-Bezalel and Mashal, 2015; Williams et al., 2013). It is yet unclear whether people with ASD have a general deficit in language comprehension or a specific difficulty in comprehending figurative language. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience difficulty in comprehending figurative language in general and irony in particular. The current study measured the effectiveness of a short-term intervention in enhancing the comprehension of irony. Twenty-nine adults with ASD and twenty two typically developing (TD) adults participated in the study. Participants with ASD were randomly assigned to a study (intervention) or control (passive intervention) group. TD participants were also assigned to a passive intervention control group. The intervention improved comprehension of irony in the ASD group. Furthermore, responses to ironic and literal targets were similar within each hemisphere prior to the intervention within the ASD study group, but after the intervention responses lateralized to the right. Thus, following the intervention, participants with ASD demonstrated a pattern of hemispheric processing of ironic target words that resembled the pattern seen in the TD group prior to the intervention. Our findings suggest that an intervention that focuses on comprehension of irony improves performance of adults with ASD and affects the pattern of hemispheric processing of irony.
    Neuropsychologia 09/2015; 77. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.09.004 · 3.30 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "However, vocabulary scores were not associated with figurative language processing in either hemisphere. Taken together, these results may indicate that individuals with PDD use different processing strategies, in line with the conclusions of previous studies that examined irony comprehension in children with ASD (Pexman et al. 2011; Wang et al., 2006a). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Previous studies on individuals with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) have pointed to difficulties in comprehension of figurative language. Using the divided visual field paradigm, the present study examined hemispheric processing of idioms and irony in 23 adults with PDD and in 24 typically developing (TD) adults. The results show that adults with PDD were relatively unimpaired in understanding figurative language. While the TD group demonstrated a right hemisphere advantage in processing the non-salient meanings of idioms as well as the ironic endings of paragraphs, the PDD group processed these stimuli bilaterally. Our findings suggest that brain lateralization is atypical in adults with PDD. Successful performance along with bilateral brain activation suggests that the PDD group uses a compensation mechanism.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 06/2015; 45(11). DOI:10.1007/s10803-015-2496-4 · 3.06 Impact Factor
    • "nisms underlying this complex profile of language in ASD . Functional MRI ( fMRI ) studies of language comprehension in adults with ASD have found the recruitment of additional / alternative neural routes outside the typical language network [ Baron - Cohen , et al . , 2001 ; Kana & Wadsworth , 2012 ; Mason et al . , 2008 ; Tesink et al . , 2011 ; Wang et al . , 2006 ] . For instance , adults with ASD tend to recruit additional right - hemisphere ( RH ) brain areas as well as parietal and occipital areas in language comprehension tasks [ Kana & Wadsworth , 2012 ; Kana et al . , 2006 , Mason et al . , 2008 ] . While neural deficits in language comprehension in adults with ASD are well documented , fa"
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Deficits in language comprehension have been widely reported in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), with behavioral and neuroimaging studies finding increased reliance on visuospatial processing to aid in language comprehension. However, no study to date, has taken advantage of this strength in visuospatial processing to improve language comprehension difficulties in ASD. This study used a translational neuroimaging approach to test the role of a visual imagery-based reading intervention in improving the brain circuitry underlying language processing in children with ASD. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in a longitudinal study design, was used to investigate intervention-related change in sentence comprehension, brain activation, and functional connectivity in three groups of participants (age 8-13 years): an experimental group of ASD children (ASD-EXP), a wait-list control group of ASD children (ASD-WLC), and a group of typically developing control children. After intervention, the ASD-EXP group showed significant increase in activity in visual and language areas and right-hemisphere language area homologues, putamen, and thalamus, suggestive of compensatory routes to increase proficiency in reading comprehension. Additionally, ASD children who had the most improvement in reading comprehension after intervention showed greater functional connectivity between left-hemisphere language areas, the middle temporal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus while reading high imagery sentences. Thus, the findings of this study, which support the principles of dual coding theory [Paivio 2007], suggest the potential of a strength-based reading intervention in changing brain responses and facilitating better reading comprehension in ASD children. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Autism Research 05/2015; DOI:10.1002/aur.1503 · 4.33 Impact Factor
Show more