(ORDO NEWS) — A new technology for non-invasive brain imaging has allowed scientists to answer the question of why autistics rarely make eye contact.
It turns out that, unlike healthy people, in patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), eye contact reduces the activity of the dorsal parietal cortex, which can serve as a diagnostic marker of ASD.
One of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders is an unwillingness to make eye contact with interlocutors.
Although eye contact is an important part of social interaction, scientists have so far been limited in research in this area due to the inability to visualize the brains of two people at the same time in vivo.
Finally, new technology has allowed researchers at Yale University (USA) to do just that. They identified areas of the brain in the dorsal parietal cortex associated with social symptomatology in autism.
The results show that this brain area’s responses to human faces and eye contact can serve as a marker for the diagnosis of ASD and the effectiveness of treatment for such disorders.
The experiment involved pairs of adults, each of which included one healthy subject and one patient with ASD. The scientists analyzed their brain activity during short conversations.
To do this, they used functional spectroscopy in the near infrared region.
This is a non-invasive method of optical neuroimaging. The participants were wearing beanies with multiple sensors that emitted infrared light to their brains and recorded changes in light signals during face gaze and eye contact.
They found that eye contact in participants with ASD significantly reduced brain activity in the dorsal parietal cortex compared to healthy participants.
In addition, the more severe the general social symptoms of ASD were, the less activity was observed in the dorsal parietal cortex.
At the same time, in healthy subjects, the patterns of neuronal activity were synchronized during eye contact with the interlocutor, but not when looking at a human face in the video.
No such effect was observed in people with ASD, consistent with their difficulty in social interactions.
Not only do they now have a better understanding of the neurobiology of autism and social difference, but they have also identified the underlying neural mechanisms that govern social bonding, the scientists say.
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