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New CMU brain imaging research reveals why autistic individuals confuse pronouns
Date:8/1/2011

PITTSBURGHAutism is a mysterious developmental disease because it often leaves complex abilities intact while impairing seemingly elementary ones. For example, it is well documented that autistic children often have difficulty correctly using pronouns, sometimes referring to themselves as "you" instead of "I."

A new brain imaging study published in the journal "Brain" by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University provides an explanation as to why autistic individuals' use of the wrong pronoun is more than simply a word choice problem. Marcel Just, Akiki Mizuno and their collaborators at CMU's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) found that errors in choosing a self-referring pronoun reflect a disordered neural representation of the self, a function processed by at least two brain areas one frontal and one posterior.

"The psychology of self the thought of one's own identity is especially important in social interaction, a facet of behavior that is usually disrupted in autism," said Just, a leading cognitive neuroscientist and the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology at CMU who directs the CCBI. "Most children don't need to receive any instruction in which pronoun to use. It just comes naturally, unless a child has autism."

For the study, the research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brain activation pattern and the synchronization of activation across brain areas in young adults with high-functioning autism with control participants during a language task that required rapid pronoun comprehension.

The results revealed a significantly diminished synchronization in autism between a frontal area (the right anterior insula) and a posterior area (precuneus) during pronoun use in the autism group. The participants with autism also were slower and less accurate in their behavioral processing of the pronouns. In particular, the synchronization was lower in autistic participants' brains b
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Contact: Shilo Raube
sraube@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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