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Biological Motion Perception in Autism: A window into social cognition deficits?

State/Province Full: 
United States

Dr. Rivera and her colleagues at the University of California at Davis will study the function of a pathway of the visual system called the “dorsal stream” in adolescents with autism. This pathway is considered important for the development of normal biological motion perception. In particular, preliminary results have shown that individuals with autism are able to see moving dots on a screen. However, when the dots of light are synchronized to mimic motion of a face, person or animal, individuals with autism show an impairment in the ability to recognize this biological motion. The mentor and her fellow will take advantage of functional MRI technology to assess which brain areas are not activated properly during this biological motion task. The task will include both biological motion mimicking individuals, or more than one “person” interacting with each other. Multiple brain regions will be assessed and compared to individuals of the same age who are not affected with autism. What this means for people with autism: This project will bring in experts in visual neuroscience and give the fellow and mentor the opportunity to present their ideas to groups of researchers who are not familiar with autism research. Biological motion processing may be a building block of social perception, which is one of the hallmark symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.