All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Rajesh K Kana

Advisory Committee Members

Sarah E O'Kelley

Fred J Biasini

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2017

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The Weak Central Coherence (WCC) account of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD; Frith, 1989) posits that people with ASD utilize a detail-oriented information processing bias. Consequently, in social cognition tasks where coherence is required, people with autism falter, whereas in visual search tasks this is advantageous. Atypical brain response patterns may underlie this cognitive profile. The present study examined the neural correlates of WCC in ASD during visual and social processing. ASD (N=15) and Typically Developing (TD) (N=16) children/adolescents completed an information processing task in a Siemens 3.0 Tesla fMRI scanner. The task consisted of human characters, composed of geometrical shapes, displaying different emotions. Participants indicated whether a given shape was present (local/shape) in a figure or identified the emotion conveyed by the character in the figure (global/emotion). Whole-brain within-and-between-group activation and seed-to-voxel functional connectivity analyses were conducted in SPM12 and the CONN toolbox. The ASD group was faster in local/shape identification (p< .05), but less accurate in global/emotion identification (p< .05). Scores on a mentalizing task predicted slower shape reaction time, but not poorer emotion recognition accuracy; a global/ local bias index did not significantly predict either. The TD group showed significantly increased areas of activity over the ASD group in the Shape>Emotion contrast in regions associated with executive control, suggesting increased interference from the global/ social information. During the Emotion condition, the ASD group showed decreased activity between frontal and posterior regions, and between body perception and motor networks, suggesting a possible deficit in the mirroring network.

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