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Social reward in autism: Electrophysiological, behavioral, and clinical correlates

State/Province Full: 
United States

Current theories suggest that social difficulties among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may be due to differences in how the brain processes reward, either with regard to reward in general, or because social information (e.g., faces, voices) is not incorporated into reward processing systems in the brain. This study will apply an innovative, realistic scientific paradigm to examine brain responses to social and nonsocial reward among school-aged children, using electroencephalography (EEG) and event-related potential (ERP) methods. Brain responses will be recorded as participants with and without ASD complete a task that earns either nonsocial rewards (points from the computer) or social rewards (votes from hypothetical online peers). Participants will also engage in a number of tasks to measure subtypes of social behavior, including social awareness, cognition, communication, and motivation. It is anticipated that electrophysiological markers will (1) be blunted in participants with ASD, particularly in response to social reward, and (2) show specific and unique relations with different subtypes of social behavior. Although interest in social reward processes has increased substantially in recent years, few studies have directly addressed the issue among children with ASD. This study will add to our current understanding by using an innovative and more realistic social reward task, exploring EEG/ERP response across multiple phases of reward processing (e.g., reward anticipation, reward delivery), and linking response to social reward to unique facets of social behavior. This research training project will integrate cognitive neuroscience and EEG/ERP methodology with fundamental brain mechanisms related to reward, methods for studying these mechanisms directly through animal models, and implications for translating these models for humans.