Stimulus Preceding Negativity and Social Stimuli in Autism Spectrum Disorder
University of California, San Diego
Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship
The proposed research uses brain measures to assess the processing of social signals in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The primary aim is to assess whether individuals with ASD show deficits in the neural markers of reward in response to social feedback. The social motivation hypothesis proposes that key deficits found in individuals with ASD (e.g., poor joint attention, eye contact, and social cognition) are underpinned by deeper motivational differences. The hypothesis is that individuals with ASD are less rewarded by engagement in social activities than typically developing individuals, and that a specific neural marker will help elucidate this difference. This project will investigate a neural component of the event-related potential (ERP) signal, namely the stimulus preceding negativity (SPN) component. Previous research shows that the SPN is a sensitive measure of activity in the dopaminergic reward pathway and anticipation of reward. Both typically developing children and adults, and children and adults with ASD, will be tested to assess their responses to social and nonsocial stimuli. The results from this social neuroscience study may identify biomarkers that can improve risk assessment and subtype stratification in individuals with ASD. Moreover, the results will be informative for designing interventions (both pharmacological and behavioral) that can be specifically tailored to improve social motivation, especially for those individuals who are more severely impaired. An interdisciplinary team of neuroscientists and research-practitioners in autism science, along with neuroscientists who specialize in the design of ERP studies investigating the SPN component, has been assembled to assist in the conduct of this project.