Rachel Brindley

University College London, London, ENG, United Kingdom

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Publications (9)27.09 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Background: Last year, we demonstrated the usefulness of the Executive Function Index (EFI, Spinella, 2004) with regard to a non-clinical sample by examining the relationship between high functioning Autism Spectrum disorder (HFA), as measured by the Autism Spectrum Quotient (ASQ) questionnaire, and underlying neuropsychological performance (frontal lobe, executive function). The EFI is a quick, reliable, and valid indicator of various domains of executive function and appears useful for those investigating the impact of frontal lobe deficit on HFA individuals. The ASQ can also rapidly quantity where an individual falls on the autism-normality continuum by distinguishing clinically significant levels of autistic traits. Objectives: We used the High/Low ASQ score dichotomy (Lindell et al, 2009, Laterality; High ASQ scores of 16-30), Low ASQ scores of 5-15). They found reduced hemispheric asymmetry for language processing, which has been highlighted in autistic populations, can be observed in a normal, non-clinical sample using theHigh/Low ASQ dichotomy. We applied this High/Low dichotomy to provide converging evidence. Methods: One-hundred undergraduates took the ASQ (50 questions, 10 each in 5 domains including social skill, attention switching, attention to detail, communication, and imagination) and the EFI. (27 self-report items that measures areas associated with frontal lobe function including motivational drive, strategic planning, organization, impulse control, empathy, plus a total score). In 2009, we showed that increases in ASQ score (suggesting more HFA behaviors), resulted in decreases in EFI scores (suggesting more executive function deficit, especially for Motivational Drive, Organization, and EFI Total Score). We used the Lindell et al (2009) dichotomy to further test this relationship. Results: A total of 67 subjects scored in the Low ASQ range (5-15, mean ASQ = 10.99, SD = 2.52); 33 scored in the High ASQ range (16-30, mean = 20.27, SD = 3.52). None scored above 32, a cut-off established by Baron-Cohen et al. (2001). The correlations of ASQ and EFI across subjects remained the same as in 2009: Motivation/ Drive (r = - .22, p < .02), Impulse Control (r = -.04, p = .36), Empathy (r = - .16, p = .056), Organization (r = - .26, p < .01), Strategic Planning (r = - .11, p = .15), EFI Total (r = - .26, p < .01). A one-way ANOVA, with High ASQ/Low ASQ as the between-subjects factor, resulted in a similar pattern: Motivation/Drive F = 2.69, p = .10; Impulse Control F = .96, p = .33; Empathy F = 1.33, p = .25; Organization F = 3.67, p = .058; Strategic Planning F = 2.05, p = .14; EFI Total F = 5.86, p < .02. Conclusions: The significant associations observed in 2009 persisted (as ASQ increases, EFI decreases) using the High/Low ASQ dichotomy. EFI Total score results suggest that the various EFI components all show decrement with ASQ increases. We are refining these results by examining these relationships using the RBANS ( Randolph, 1998) neuropsychological test battery.
    International Meeting for Autism Research 2010; 05/2010
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    ABSTRACT: Background: A lack of empathy is often described as a feature of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). However, empirical studies of empathy in ASC have produced mixed results, with some evidence for an empathy deficit in ASC being provided by tasks that rely on skills that may be impaired in ASC (e.g. facial expression recognition). More problematic for claims of an empathy deficit in ASC is the high rate of alexithymia in ASC. Alexithymia is described as a subclinical phenomenon marked by difficulties in identifying and describing feelings and difficulties in distinguishing feelings from the bodily sensations of emotional arousal. Our previous work suggests that alexithymia results in empathic deficits, thus making it possible that ASC per se does not result in reduced empathy, but that previous findings of an empathy deficit may be due to the increased numbers of alexithymic individuals in this population. Objectives: To directly test empathy in individuals with ASC and to determine whether any deficits are due to their autism spectrum condition and/or a result of the increased level of alexithymia in this group. Methods: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we tested empathy in a group of individuals with ASC selected to ensure a wide distribution of alexithymia scores and a matched control group (of individuals without an ASC) with the same wide distribution of alexithymia scores. Empathic brain responses were measured using an ‘empathy for pain’ paradigm which involves a real-life social setting and does not rely on attention to, or recognition of, facial affect cues. In this task participants lie in the scanner while a partner sits next to the scanner and rests their hand next to the participant’s hand. Both the participants and their partner receive brief electric shocks to the back of their hand. Coloured cues indicate whether the participant, or their partner, will receive the shock. This paradigm allows pain-responsive areas of the participant’s brain to be identified. Activity can be measured in these areas when the partner receives pain as an index of the participant’s level of empathy. Results: Importantly, after controlling for alexithymia, there were no differences in the level of empathic brain activity between the ASC and Control groups. In contrast, the degree of alexithymia was significantly associated with empathic brain activity in both groups. The relationship between alexithymia and empathic brain activity did not vary as a function of group. Conclusions: These findings suggest that the empathy deficits observed in ASC may be due to the large co-morbidity between alexithymic traits and ASC, rather than representing a necessary feature of the social impairments in autism.
    International Meeting for Autism Research 2010; 05/2010
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    ABSTRACT: Difficulties in social cognition are well recognized in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (henceforth 'autism'). Here we focus on one crucial aspect of social cognition: the ability to empathize with the feelings of another. In contrast to theory of mind, a capacity that has often been observed to be impaired in individuals with autism, much less is known about the capacity of individuals with autism for affect sharing. Based on previous data suggesting that empathy deficits in autism are a function of interoceptive deficits related to alexithymia, we aimed to investigate empathic brain responses in autistic and control participants with high and low degrees of alexithymia. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured empathic brain responses with an 'empathy for pain' paradigm assessing empathic brain responses in a real-life social setting that does not rely on attention to, or recognition of, facial affect cues. Confirming previous findings, empathic brain responses to the suffering of others were associated with increased activation in left anterior insula and the strength of this signal was predictive of the degree of alexithymia in both autistic and control groups but did not vary as a function of group. Importantly, there was no difference in the degree of empathy between autistic and control groups after accounting for alexithymia. These findings suggest that empathy deficits observed in autism may be due to the large comorbidity between alexithymic traits and autism, rather than representing a necessary feature of the social impairments in autism.
    Brain 04/2010; 133(Pt 5):1515-25. · 10.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Evidence from typical development and neuroimaging studies suggests that level 2 visual perspective taking - the knowledge that different people may see the same thing differently at the same time - is a mentalising task. Thus, we would expect children with autism, who fail typical mentalising tasks like false belief, to perform poorly on level 2 visual perspective taking as well. However, prior data on this issue are inconclusive. We re-examined this question, testing a group of 23 young autistic children, aged around 8years with a verbal mental age of around 4years and three groups of typical children (n=60) ranging in age from 4 to 8years on a level 2 visual perspective task and a closely matched mental rotation task. The results demonstrate that autistic children have difficulty with visual perspective taking compared to a task requiring mental rotation, relative to typical children. Furthermore, performance on the level 2 visual perspective taking task correlated with theory of mind performance. These findings resolve discrepancies in previous studies of visual perspective taking in autism, and demonstrate that level 2 visual perspective taking is a mentalising task.
    Cognition 09/2009; 113(1):37-44. · 3.63 Impact Factor
  • A. Hamilton, R. Brindley, U. Frith
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Evidence from typical development and neuroimaging studies suggests that level 2 visual perspective taking – the knowledge that different people may see the same thing differently – is a mentalising task. Thus, we would expect children with autism, who fail typical mentalising tasks like false belief, to perform poorly on level 2 visual perspective taking as well. However, prior data on this issue is mixed, with some reports of success in autism. Objectives: The aim of the study was to determine if children with autism have specific difficulties with level 2 visual perspective taking, in relation to their verbal and spatial abilities. Methods: We tested a group of 23 young autistic children and three groups of typical children on a simple level 2 visual perspective task and a closely matched mental rotation task. Groups were matched on either verbal or spatial abilities. Results: The data show that autistic children have difficulty with visual perspective taking but not mental rotation, relative to typical children. Furthermore, performance on the level 2 visual perspective taking task correlated with theory of mind performance. Conclusions: These results support the hypothesis that children with autism have specific difficulties with mentalising tasks, and demonstrate the value of using visual perspective taking tasks, which have low verbal requirements and close control conditions, to assess mentalising abilities.
    International Meeting for Autism Research 2008; 05/2008
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies have suggested an uneven profile of executive dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). For example, some authors have reported deficits on newly developed tests of executive function sensitive to rostral prefrontal function, despite spared, or even superior, performance on other tests. We investigated the performance of a group of high-functioning participants with ASD (N=15) and an age- and IQ-matched control group (N=18) on two executive function tests, whilst undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Behaviourally, there were no significant differences between the two groups. In a classical test of executive function (random response generation), BOLD signal differed between the groups in the cerebellum but not in the frontal lobes. However, on a new test of executive function (selection between stimulus-oriented and stimulus-independent thought), the ASD group exhibited significantly greater signal-change in medial rostral prefrontal cortex (especially Brodmann Area 10) in the comparison of stimulus-oriented versus stimulus-independent attention. In addition, the new test (but not the classical test) provided evidence for abnormal functional organisation of medial prefrontal cortex in ASD. These results underline the heterogeneity of different tests of executive function, and suggest that executive functioning in ASD is associated with task-specific functional change.
    Neuropsychologia 02/2008; 46(9):2281-91. · 3.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Autism is associated with an inability to identify and distinguish one's own feelings. We assessed this inability using alexithymia and empathy questionnaires, and used fMRI to investigate brain activity while introspecting on emotion. Individuals with high functioning autism/Asperger syndrome (HFA/AS) were compared with matched controls. Participants rated stimuli from the International Affective Picture System twice, once according to the degree of un/pleasantness that the pictures induced, and once according to their color balance. The groups differed significantly on both alexithymia and empathy questionnaires. Alexithymia and lack of empathy were correlated, indicating a link between understanding one's own and others' emotions. For both groups a strong relationship between questionnaire scores and brain activity was found in the anterior insula (AI), when participants were required to assess their feelings to unpleasant pictures. Regardless of self-reported degree of emotional awareness, individuals with HFA/AS differed from controls when required to introspect on their feelings by showing reduced activation in self-reflection/mentalizing regions. Thus, we conclude that difficulties in emotional awareness are related to hypoactivity in AI in both individuals with HFA/AS and controls, and that the particular difficulties in emotional awareness in individuals with HFA/AS are not related to their impairments in self-reflection/mentalizing.
    Social neuroscience 01/2008; 3(2):97-112. · 3.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The goal-directed theory of imitation (GOADI) states that copying of action outcomes (e.g., turning a light switch) takes priority over imitation of the means by which those outcomes are achieved (e.g., choice of effector or grip). The object < effector < grip error pattern in the pen-and-cups task provides strong support for GOADI. Experiment 1 replicated this effect using video stimuli. Experiment 2 showed that shifting the color cue from objects to effectors makes imitation of effector selection more accurate than imitation of object and grip selection. Experiment 3 replicated this result when participants were required to describe actions. Experiment 4 indicated that, when participants are imitating and describing actions, enhancing grip discriminability makes grip selection the most accurately executed component of the task. Consistent with theories that hypothesize that imitation relies on task-general mechanisms (e.g., the associative sequence learning model, ideomotor theory), these findings suggest that imitation is no more or less goal directed than other tasks involving action observation.
    Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance 10/2007; 33(5):1158-69. · 3.11 Impact Factor
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    Antonia F de C Hamilton, Rachel M Brindley, Uta Frith
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    ABSTRACT: The motor mirror neuron system supports imitation and goal understanding in typical adults. Recently, it has been proposed that a deficit in this mirror neuron system might contribute to poor imitation performance in children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and might be a cause of poor social abilities in these children. We aimed to test this hypothesis by examining the performance of 25 children with ASD and 31 typical children of the same verbal mental age on four action representation tasks and a theory of mind battery. Both typical and autistic children had the same tendency to imitate an adult's goals, to imitate in a mirror fashion and to imitate grasps in a motor planning task. Children with ASD showed superior performance on a gesture recognition task. These imitation and gesture recognition tasks all rely on the mirror neuron system in typical adults, but performance was not impaired in children with ASD. In contrast, the ASD group were impaired on the theory of mind tasks. These results provide clear evidence against a general imitation impairment and a global mirror neuron system deficit in children with autism. We suggest this data can best be understood in terms of multiple brain systems for different types of imitation and action understanding, and that the ability to understand and imitate the goals of hand actions is intact in children with ASD.
    Neuropsychologia 05/2007; 45(8):1859-68. · 3.48 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

432 Citations
27.09 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2009–2010
    • University College London
      • Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
      London, ENG, United Kingdom
    • University of Nottingham
      • School of Psychology
      Nottingham, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2007
    • Dartmouth College
      • Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
      Hanover, NH, United States