Cerebral Hemispheres 2
NEUROSCIENTIFICALLY CHALLENGED

NEUROSCIENCE MADE SIMPLER

Autism May Involve Limited Awareness of Self


As the prevalence of autism continues to rise—for reasons that are still unknown—researchers are frantically trying to understand the disorder. Autism consists of a spectrum of behaviors, such as repetitive or ritualistic behavior, self-injury, impaired language ability, and limited communication skills. One of the most commonly held views on autism has been that those who are afflicted have a decreased capacity to feel empathy, or to understand that other people have their own mental states, desires, and intentions. Neuroimaging studies with autistic individuals have seemed to support this idea.

Other studies have indicated there is a diminished ability to recognize self in the autistic mind as well. A neuroimaging study released this week supports that hypothesis. The experiment used fMRI and a relatively new technique called hyperscanning to measure brain activity of autistic and non-autistic adolescents as they played an interactive game together. Hyperscanning is an imaging method that allows multiple people to be scanned with fMRI simultaneously as they communicate with one another.

The researchers compared the fMRI images to images they had taken of athletes’ brains as they imagined themselves taking part in athletic activities. They found this focus on “self” caused high activity in the cingulate cortex, an area previously implicated in self-awareness and social interaction. This area was also highly activated in the non-autistic participants in the game as they thought about what action they would take. It contrasted with a different pattern of activity that occurred when they thought about the actions of their partner. Although the autistic participants were able to play the game effectively, they showed much lower levels of stimulation in the cingulate cortex. The activity was also negatively correlated with the severity of their autistic symptoms (the more severe the symptoms the lower the activity).

All of the autistic participants in the study were considered high functioning, with normal or high normal intelligence quotients. The research group plans to conduct more imaging experiments in the future with autistic individuals who have lower IQs. For now, this experiment may shed more light on the brain mechanisms underlying autism. It also adds more complexity to the problem, however, as it appears a deficit in the awareness of others may not be all that’s involved.

YOUR BRAIN, EXPLAINED

Sleep. Memory. Pleasure. Fear. Language. We experience these things every day, but how do our brains create them? Your Brain, Explained is a personal tour around your gray matter. Building on neuroscientist Marc Dingman’s popular YouTube series, 2-Minute Neuroscience, this is a friendly, engaging introduction to the human brain and its quirks using real-life examples and Dingman’s own, hand-drawn illustrations.

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BIZARRE

This book shows a whole other side of how brains work by examining the most unusual behavior to emerge from the human brain. In it, you'll meet a woman who is afraid to take a shower because she fears her body will slip down the drain, a man who is convinced he is a cat, a woman who compulsively snacks on cigarette ashes, and many other unusual cases. As uncommon as they are, each of these cases has something important to teach us about everyday brain function.

  • Dingman brings the history of neuroscience back to life and weaves in contemporary ideas seamlessly. Readers will come along for the ride of a really interesting read and accidentally learn some neuroscience along the way. - Erin Kirschmann, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology & Counseling, Immaculata University

  • Through case studies of both exceptional people as well as those with disorders, Bizarre takes us on a fascinating journey in which we learn more about what is going on in our skull. - William J. Ray, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, author, Abnormal Psychology

  • Bizarre is a collection of stories of how the brain can create zombies, cult members, extra limbs, instant musicians, and overnight accents, to name a few of the mind-scratching cases. After reading this book, you will walk away with a greater appreciation for this bizarre organ. If you are a fan of Oliver Sacks' books, you're certain to be a fan of Dingman's Bizarre. - Allison M. Wilck, PhD, Researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology, Eastern Mennonite University

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