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'Shifty-eyed' Monkeys Offer Window Into Brain's Social Reflexes

bility corresponds so exquisitely in humans and monkeys.' Besides offering a basic understanding of the neural machinery of such social reflexes, said Platt, such a model could yield insights into such disorders as autism. 'Children with autism tend not to orient to other individuals,' he said. 'They don't tend to look other people in the eye, and in particular they show a strong deficit in shifting their attention where another individual is looking or paying attention.' Such deficits not only cause problems for autistic children in everyday social interactions, said Platt, but also in teaching them. 'When you're teaching another person, you often engage with them in 'joint attention,' where you establish attentive contact and undergo a give and take, as you both concentrate on something,' said Platt. 'You often don't see that capability in autistic individuals.' To understand the neural functions of such social processing, Platt and his colleagues are embarking on studies in which they will first study the responses of nerve cells in parts of the brain devoted to shifting attention to determine if social information influences patterns of brain activity there. In future studies, they plan to alter or disrupt neurons or structures in the social-processing regions of the monkeys' brains, and explore whether the resulting behaviors mimic the symptoms of autism. Also, he said, the researchers can explore the environmental contribution to autism by studying the effects of manipulating the animals' social surroundings during their development.


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Source:DukeHealth


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