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Yale researchers discover mechanism for
Date:3/30/2009

Two-year-olds with autism lack an important building block of social interaction that prompts newborn babies to pay attention to other people. Instead, these children pay attention to physical relationships between movement and sound and miss critical social information. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine report their results in the March 29 online issue of Nature.

"Human infants are born in a fragile state. They are entirely dependent on their caregivers for survival, and so it makes sense that infants would possess very early-emerging predispositions to seek their caregivers, to pay special attention to movements in the environment that are associated with human actions and gestures," said Ami Klin, director of the Autism Program at Yale and the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychology at the Yale Child Study Center.

Klin, who conducted the study with research scientist Warren Jones and colleagues at Yale, said that two-year-olds with autism showed no signs of this selective attention to these types of human movements. Instead, the children with autism focused on a different environmental cue: they paid attention only to movements that were physically synchronous with sounds.

"Rather than attending to human biological motion, and the social cues in that motion," said Klin, "children with autism were very sensitive to non-social information: to synchronies between sounds and motion in what they were watching."

Klin, Jones and colleagues tracked the eye movements of two-year-olds with and without autism while they watched cartoon animations. The animations were created with a technique borrowed from the video game industry in which movements of real people are recorded and then used to animate characters. In this case, the body movements were recreated as points of light on a black background, with one point of light at each joint in the body.

"The eye-tracking data revealed that typica
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Contact: Karen N. Peart
karen.peart@yale.edu
203-432-1326
Yale University
Source:Eurekalert

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