Neural Basis of Socially Driven Attention in Children with Autism
University of California, Los Angeles
People with autism often have difficulties in shifting their attention in response to social cues. In typical individuals, social cues such as the direction of another person's eye gaze cause automatic shifts in attention. It is unclear whether the impairment in attention shifting seen in autism is due to the social nature of the cue or to a more general problem in automatically shifting attention. The present study will begin to address this important question. Children with and without autism will perform a well-established task for measuring attention shifts in response to different cues. The cues will either be social in nature (eyes looking left or right) or nonsocial (arrows pointing left or right). The task will be performed while the subjects undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique used to image neural activity in specific regions of the brain. These experiments will determine the exact nature of the impairment in attention shifting, as well as provide information about the brain regions involved in this impairment. This research will advance our understanding of the neural basis of attention shifting problems in individuals with autism, which may provide a foundation for the development of interventions to treat this aspect of social impairment.