Informational and neural bases of empathic accuracy in Autism Spectrum Disorder
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties with communication and social interactions which likely stem from problems with social cognition, or the ability to understand the thoughts and emotions of others. While several tests have previously been developed to measure social cognition, these tests use relatively simple stimuli such as pictures or cartoons. These stimuli are quite different from the emotions and thoughts people express in true social interactions, and thus it is unclear whether improved performance on these simplified tests of social cognition reflects real improvement the in social functioning of people with ASD. In the proposed project, the predoctoral fellow will use a more realistic Empathic Accuracy test to explore social cognition in ASD. In the Empathic Accuracy test, participants attempt to identify the real emotions of people in videos, rather than still pictures or cartoons. This task requires the integration of verbal cues, non-verbal cues, and information about social situations in a flexible and dynamic way which more accurately simulates true social interaction. This test will be used to examine how people with ASD use different types of information in a social context to understand what other people are feeling, as well as to examine the neural pathways involved in understanding realistically portrayed emotions. Using a more realistic measure of social cognition in the study of individuals with ASD may improve our understanding of the biological underpinnings of social difficulties in ASD, and may aid in the development of interventions to improve social functioning.