All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Rajesh K Kana

Advisory Committee Members

Fred J Biasini

Maria I Hopkins

David C Knight

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2012

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The ability to interpret others' intentions based on their actions is a vital skill that helps us infer and understand their thoughts and plans. However, individuals with autism have been found to have difficulty in attributing intentions to others (Baron-Cohen et al., 1985; Baron-Cohen, 1995; Happe & Frith, 1996; Williams et al., 2001). The present study investigated the neural mechanisms of inferring intentions from actions in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and typically developing control participants. fMRI data were acquired while participants made judgments about the means (how an action is performed) and intentions (why an action is performed) of a model engaged in various actions. The main results are as follows: 1) In all participants, we found a consistent Mirror Neuron System (MNS; inferior frontal gyrus, inferior parietal lobule) response while attending to the means and intention of an action; 2) We found overall higher brain activation in our ASD group during the means, intention, and unusual action conditions; and 3) We found reduced connectivity between MNS and theory-of-mind (ToM) regions during our task for participants with ASD. Our results suggest that processing actions and ToM may not be mutually exclusive. In addition, it underscores the notion that mirroring mechanisms (MNS) and reflective, inferential mechanisms (ToM) play complementary roles in understanding the intentions of other agents around us. Furthermore, such mechanisms may be qualitatively different in individuals with ASD.

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