Date of Thesis

2013

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Science

Department

Neuroscience

First Advisor

David Evans

Keywords

fMRI, EEG, ERP, Autism, ASD, Social Cognition, Brain Imaging

Abstract

Evidence suggests that the social cognition deficits prevalent in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are widely distributed in first degree and extended relatives. This ¿broader autism phenotype¿ (BAP) can be extended into non-clinical populations and show wide distributions of social behaviors such as empathy and social responsiveness ¿ with ASDs exhibiting these behaviors on the lower ends of the distributions. Little evidence has previously shown relationships between self-report measures of social cognition and more objective tasks such as face perception in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event-related potentials (ERPs). In this study, three specific hypotheses were addressed: a) increased social ability, as measured by an increased Empathy Quotient, decreased Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-A) score, and increased Social Attribution Task score, will predict increased activation of the fusiform gyrus in response to faces as compared to houses; b) these same measures will predict N170 amplitude and latency showing decreased latency and increased amplitude for faces as compared to houses with increased social ability; c) increased amygdala volume will predict increased fusiform gyrus activation when viewing faces as compared to houses. Findings supported all of the hypotheses. Empathy scores significantly predicted both right FFG activation [F(1,20) = 4.811, p = .041, ß = .450, R2 = 0.20] and left FFG activation [F(1,20) = 7.70, p = .012, ß = .537, R2 = 0.29]. Based on ERP results increased right lateralization face-related N170 was significantly predicted by the EQ [F(1,54) = 6.94, p = .011, ß = .338, R2 = 0.11]. Finally, total amygdala volume significantly predicted right [F(1,20) = 7.217, p = .014, ß = .515, R2 = 0.27] and left [F(1,20) = 36.77, p < .001, ß = .805, R2 = 0.65] FFG activation. Consistent with the a priori hypotheses, traits attributed to the BAP can significantly predict neural responses to faces in a non-clinical population. This is consistent with the face processing deficits seen in ASDs. The findings presented here contribute to the extension of the BAP from unaffected relatives of individuals with ASDs to the general population. These findings also give continued evidence in support of a continuous distribution of traits found in psychiatric illnesses in place of a traditional, dichotomous ¿all-or-nothing¿ diagnostic framework of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders.

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