Brain Electrophysiology of Interactive Social Stimuli
Social deficits in ASD manifest primarily in the context of dynamic interpersonal interactions. However, neuroscience investigations of social dysfunction have relied on paradigms where individuals with ASD passively observe rather than interact with social stimuli, e.g., faces. In the current project, the research team employs dynamically responsive experimental paradigms to study interactive social perception. The researchers will apply concurrent eye-tracking (ET) and electroencephalographic recording (EEG) to investigate brain responses to displayed social reactions that are contingent upon participants’ behavior; as participants look to on-screen faces, the stimuli respond with reciprocal eye gaze or emotional expression. This research allows, for the first time, quantification of the neural time course of reciprocal eye-contact in ASD. 40 individuals with ASD and 40 controls, EEG and ET will be monitored during free viewing of faces and during interaction with dynamically responsive faces. Brain activity to responsive faces that vary in gaze direction gaze (direct/averted) and expressed emotion (happy, fear, disgust) will be characterized. Finally, the manner in which gaze patterns to faces and brain activity to responsive faces relate to clinical measures of social anxiety, social motivation, and social performance will be examined. Insight into the neural bases of interactive face processing in ASD is vital for treatment selection and predicting and measuring response to intervention. The advancement of gaze-contingent methods holds great promise for intervention itself; integration with concurrent measures of brain response offers the potential to image the learning process and adapt instructional strategies accordingly to enhance effectiveness. This research is integrated with a training plan in which the applicant, trained in experimental cognitive psychology and expert in computer graphics and eye-tracking, will develop clinical experience conducting EEG research with individuals with ASD. With expert clinical mentorship, the applicant will learn to administer experimental EEG and ET paradigms and behavioral assessments to individuals with ASD. Direct experience with individuals with ASD will be complimented by regular assessment observations, weekly seminars, and clinical workshops. To increase translational value of this work, training specifies manuscript writing and conference attendance for dissemination of research findings.