Publications by authors named "Bhismadev Chakrabarti"

94 Publications

Keeping in time with social and non-social stimuli: Synchronisation with auditory, visual, and audio-visual cues.

Sci Rep 2021 Apr 22;11(1):8805. Epub 2021 Apr 22.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL, UK.

Everyday social interactions require us to closely monitor, predict, and synchronise our movements with those of an interacting partner. Experimental studies of social synchrony typically examine the social-cognitive outcomes associated with synchrony, such as affiliation. On the other hand, research on the sensorimotor aspects of synchronisation generally uses non-social stimuli (e.g. a moving dot). To date, the differences in sensorimotor aspects of synchronisation to social compared to non-social stimuli remain largely unknown. The present study aims to address this gap using a verbal response paradigm where participants were asked to synchronise a 'ba' response in time with social and non-social stimuli, which were presented auditorily, visually, or audio-visually combined. For social stimuli a video/audio recording of an actor performing the same verbal 'ba' response was presented, whereas for non-social stimuli a moving dot, an auditory metronome or both combined were presented. The impact of autistic traits on participants' synchronisation performance was examined using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). Our results revealed more accurate synchronisation for social compared to non-social stimuli, suggesting that greater familiarity with and motivation in attending to social stimuli may enhance our ability to better predict and synchronise with them. Individuals with fewer autistic traits demonstrated greater social learning, as indexed through an improvement in synchronisation performance to social vs non-social stimuli across the experiment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88112-yDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8062473PMC
April 2021

Autistic differences in the temporal dynamics of social attention.

Autism 2021 Aug 11;25(6):1615-1626. Epub 2021 Mar 11.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK.

Lay Abstract: One behaviour often observed in individuals with autism is that they tend to look less towards social stimuli relative to neurotypical individuals. For instance, many eye-tracking studies have shown that individuals with autism will look less towards people and more towards objects in scenes. However, we currently know very little about how these behaviours change over time. Tracking these moment-to-moment changes in looking behaviour in individuals with autism can more clearly illustrate how they respond to social stimuli. In this study, adults with and without autism were presented with displays of social and non-social stimuli, while looking behaviours were measured by eye-tracking. We found large differences in how the two groups looked towards social stimuli over time. Neurotypical individuals initially showed a high probability of looking towards social stimuli, then a decline in probability, and a subsequent increase in probability after prolonged viewing. By contrast, individuals with autism showed an initial increase in probability, followed by a continuous decline in probability that did not recover. This pattern of results may indicate that individuals with autism exhibit reduced responsivity to the reward value of social stimuli. Moreover, our data suggest that exploring the temporal nature of gaze behaviours can lead to more precise explanatory theories of attention in autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362361321998573DOI Listing
August 2021

Commentary: 'Camouflaging' in autistic people - reflection on Fombonne (2020).

J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2020 Dec 2. Epub 2020 Dec 2.

Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.

Fombonne's (2020) editorial is a thought-provoking appraisal of the literature on 'camouflaging', whereby some autistic people mask or compensate for their autistic characteristics as an attempt to fit in and to cope with disabilities under neurotypical social norms. Fombonne (2020) highlights three issues of contention: (a) construct validity and measurement of camouflaging; (b) camouflaging as a reason for late autism diagnosis in adolescence/adulthood; and (c) camouflaging as a feature of the 'female autism phenotype'. Here, we argue that (a) establishing construct validity and measurement of different aspects of camouflaging is warranted; (b) subjective experiences are important for the differential diagnosis of autism in adolescence/adulthood; and (c) camouflaging is not necessarily a feature of autism in female individuals - nevertheless, taking into account sex and gender influences in development is crucial to understand behavioural manifestations of autism. Future research and clinical directions should involve clarification of associated constructs and measurements, demography, mechanisms, impact (including harms and benefits) and tailored support.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13344DOI Listing
December 2020

Social orienting and social seeking behaviors in ASD. A meta analytic investigation.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2020 12 15;119:376-395. Epub 2020 Oct 15.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL, UK.

Social motivation accounts of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) posit that individuals with ASD find social stimuli less rewarding than neurotypical (NT) individuals. Behaviorally, this is proposed to manifest in reduced social orienting (individuals with ASD direct less attention towards social stimuli) and reduced social seeking (individuals with ASD invest less effort to receive social stimuli). In two meta-analyses, involving data from over 6000 participants, we review the available behavioral studies that assess social orienting and social seeking behaviors in ASD. We found robust evidence for reduced social orienting in ASD, across a range of paradigms, demographic variables and stimulus contexts. The most robust predictor of this effect was interactive content - effects were larger when the stimulus involved an interaction between people. By contrast, the evidence for reduced social seeking indicated weaker evidence for group differences, observed only under specific experimental conditions. The insights gained from this meta-analysis can inform design of relevant task measures for social reward responsivity and promote directions for further study on the ASD phenotype.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.10.003DOI Listing
December 2020

Research Review: The relationship between social anxiety and social cognition in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2021 Jul 11;62(7):805-821. Epub 2020 Aug 11.

Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Background: Childhood Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is common and impairing. The recommended treatment is a disorder specific form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that includes social skills training and, whilst they appear to be more effective than more general treatments, it is not clear whether social skills training is the critical component involved in improved outcomes, particularly given that evidence for the relationship between social anxiety and social skills deficits in children is inconsistent. This may be partly due to an overlap in their observable features, and because the nature of the association may vary in different contexts (e.g. according to child age). An alternative approach is to examine the association between social anxiety and the social cognitive capacities that underpin social skills. This paper aims to examine the association between social anxiety and social cognition in children and adolescents, and examine conceptual and methodological moderators of this relationship.

Methods: Papers published between 1980 and 2019 were screened systematically. Fifty studies were identified from which an effect size could be calculated for the relationship between social anxiety and social cognition, including 15,411 children and adolescents.

Results: An overall significant, but moderate effect (r = -.15) was identified, where increased social anxiety was associated with lower social cognitive ability. Moderation analyses revealed specific associations within studies examining social anxiety among participants with and without ASD who were older than 7 years old, and studies assessing the relationship between social anxiety and specific aspects of Theory of Mind (ToM). No significant association was identified between social anxiety and emotion recognition.

Conclusions: Significant associations between social anxiety and social cognitive abilities appear to be accounted for by elevated social anxiety among children with ASD, and those with difficulties in specific aspects of ToM but not broader social skills, such as emotion recognition. This reinforces the importance of accurately identifying and treating social anxiety within ASD populations. In addition, treatments for social anxiety among neurotypical populations may benefit from targeting particular aspects of ToM rather than emotion recognition and other broad social skills.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13310DOI Listing
July 2021

Intrinsic excitation-inhibition imbalance affects medial prefrontal cortex differently in autistic men versus women.

Elife 2020 08 4;9. Epub 2020 Aug 4.

Laboratory for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems @UniTn, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Rovereto, Italy.

Excitation-inhibition (E:I) imbalance is theorized as an important pathophysiological mechanism in autism. Autism affects males more frequently than females and sex-related mechanisms (e.g., X-linked genes, androgen hormones) can influence E:I balance. This suggests that E:I imbalance may affect autism differently in males versus females. With a combination of in-silico modeling and in-vivo chemogenetic manipulations in mice, we first show that a time-series metric estimated from fMRI BOLD signal, the Hurst exponent (H), can be an index for underlying change in the synaptic E:I ratio. In autism we find that H is reduced, indicating increased excitation, in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) of autistic males but not females. Increasingly intact MPFC H is also associated with heightened ability to behaviorally camouflage social-communicative difficulties, but only in autistic females. This work suggests that H in BOLD can index synaptic E:I ratio and that E:I imbalance affects autistic males and females differently.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.55684DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7402681PMC
August 2020

To covet what we see: Autistic traits modulate the relationship between looking and choosing.

Autism Res 2021 02 20;14(2):289-300. Epub 2020 Jul 20.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK.

Behavioral studies indicate that autistic traits predict reduced gaze toward social stimuli. Moreover, experiments that require participants to make an explicit choice between stimuli indicate reduced preferences for social stimuli in individuals with high autistic traits. These observations, in combination, fit with the idea that gaze is actively involved in the formation of choices-gaze toward a stimulus increases the likelihood of its subsequent selection. Although these aspects of gaze and choice behavior have been well characterized separately, it remains unclear how autistic traits affect the relationship between gaze and socially relevant choices. In a choice-based eye-tracking paradigm, we observed that autistic traits predict less frequent and delayed selection of social stimuli. Critically, eye tracking revealed novel phenomena underlying these choice behaviors: first, the relationship between gaze and choice behavior was weaker in individuals with high autistic traits-an increase in gaze to a stimulus was associated with a smaller increase in choice probability. Second, time-series analyses revealed that gaze became predictive of choice behaviors at longer latencies in observers with high autistic traits. This dissociation between gaze and choice in individuals with high autistic traits may reflect wider atypicalities in value coding. Such atypicalities may predict the development of atypical social behaviors associated with the autism phenotype. LAY SUMMARY: When presented with multiple stimuli to choose from, we tend to look more toward the stimuli we later choose. Here, we found that this relationship between looking and choosing was reduced in individuals with high autistic traits. These data indicate that autistic traits may be associated with atypical processing of value, which may contribute to the reduced preferences for social stimuli exhibited by individuals with autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/aur.2349DOI Listing
February 2021

Research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond: A call to action for psychological science.

Br J Psychol 2020 Nov 19;111(4):603-629. Epub 2020 Jul 19.

Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, School of Health Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) that has caused the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic represents the greatest international biopsychosocial emergency the world has faced for a century, and psychological science has an integral role to offer in helping societies recover. The aim of this paper is to set out the shorter- and longer-term priorities for research in psychological science that will (a) frame the breadth and scope of potential contributions from across the discipline; (b) enable researchers to focus their resources on gaps in knowledge; and (c) help funders and policymakers make informed decisions about future research priorities in order to best meet the needs of societies as they emerge from the acute phase of the pandemic. The research priorities were informed by an expert panel convened by the British Psychological Society that reflects the breadth of the discipline; a wider advisory panel with international input; and a survey of 539 psychological scientists conducted early in May 2020. The most pressing need is to research the negative biopsychosocial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate immediate and longer-term recovery, not only in relation to mental health, but also in relation to behaviour change and adherence, work, education, children and families, physical health and the brain, and social cohesion and connectedness. We call on psychological scientists to work collaboratively with other scientists and stakeholders, establish consortia, and develop innovative research methods while maintaining high-quality, open, and rigorous research standards.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12468DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7404603PMC
November 2020

Perceived Closeness and Autistic Traits Modulate Interpersonal Vocal Communication.

Front Psychiatry 2020 28;11:50. Epub 2020 Feb 28.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom.

Vocal modulation is a critical component of interpersonal communication. It not only serves as a dynamic and flexible tool for self-expression and linguistic information but also plays a key role in social behavior. Variation in vocal modulation can be driven by individual traits of interlocutors as well as factors relating to the dyad, such as the perceived closeness between interlocutors. In this study we examine both of these sources of variation. At an individual level, we examine the impact of autistic traits, since lack of appropriate vocal modulation has often been associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. At a dyadic level, we examine the role of perceived closeness between interlocutors on vocal modulation. The study was conducted in three separate samples from India, Italy, and the UK. Articulatory features were extracted from recorded conversations between a total of 85 same-sex pairs of participants, and the articulation space calculated. A larger articulation space corresponds to greater number of spectro-temporal modulations (articulatory variations) sampled by the speaker. Articulation space showed a positive association with interpersonal closeness and a weak negative association with autistic traits. This study thus provides novel insights into individual and dyadic variation that can influence interpersonal vocal communication.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00050DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7059848PMC
February 2020

Social and non-social autism symptoms and trait domains are genetically dissociable.

Commun Biol 2019 3;2:328. Epub 2019 Sep 3.

1Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK.

The core diagnostic criteria for autism comprise two symptom domains - social and communication difficulties, and unusually repetitive and restricted behaviour, interests and activities. There is some evidence to suggest that these two domains are dissociable, though this hypothesis has not yet been tested using molecular genetics. We test this using a genome-wide association study ( = 51,564) of a non-social trait related to autism, systemising, defined as the drive to analyse and build systems. We demonstrate that systemising is heritable and genetically correlated with autism. In contrast, we do not identify significant genetic correlations between social autistic traits and systemising. Supporting this, polygenic scores for systemising are significantly and positively associated with restricted and repetitive behaviour but not with social difficulties in autistic individuals. These findings strongly suggest that the two core domains of autism are genetically dissociable, and point at how to fractionate the genetics of autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s42003-019-0558-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6722082PMC
April 2020

Look out captain, I hear an ambiguous alien! A study of interpretation bias and anxiety in young children.

Behav Res Ther 2019 10 31;121:103450. Epub 2019 Jul 31.

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Harry Pitt Building, Earley Gate, RG6 6AL, UK. Electronic address:

There is convincing evidence that anxious children and adolescents are biased to interpret ambiguity in a negative way (Stuijfzand, Creswell, Field, Pearcey, & Dodd, 2017). However, little research examines interpretation bias in children under eight years. This is due to existing measures of interpretation bias being inappropriate for young children. Consequently, we aimed to develop a new interpretation bias task for young children using tones. Children learnt to associate high tones with a 'happy alien' and low tones with an 'angry alien'. They were then asked to classify tones from the middle of the frequency range (ambiguous tones) as 'happy' or 'angry'. Corrugator muscle activity was recorded alongside behavioural responses. A community sample of 110 children aged 4-8 years, split into high and low anxious groups, completed the task. High anxious children were more likely to interpret the ambiguous tones as negative but this effect was small and only apparent after controlling for developmental factors. Corrugator activity aligned with behavioural responses for trained but not ambiguous tones. This is the first study to assess interpretation bias in young children using behavioural and physiological measures. Results indicate the task is developmentally appropriate and has potential utility for future research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2019.103450DOI Listing
October 2019

Enhancement of indirect functional connections with shortest path length in the adult autistic brain.

Hum Brain Mapp 2019 12 29;40(18):5354-5369. Epub 2019 Aug 29.

Brain Mapping Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by atypical brain functional organization. Here we investigated the intrinsic indirect (semi-metric) connectivity of the functional connectome associated with autism. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were acquired from 65 neurotypical adults (33 males/32 females) and 61 autistic adults (30 males/31 females). From functional connectivity networks, semi-metric percentages (SMPs) were calculated to assess the proportion of indirect shortest functional pathways at global, hemisphere, network, and node levels. Group comparisons were then conducted to ascertain differences between autism and neurotypical control groups. Finally, the strength and length of edges were examined to explore the patterns of semi-metric connections associated with autism. Compared with neurotypical controls, autistic adults displayed significantly higher SMP at all spatial scales, similar to prior observations in adolescents. Differences were primarily in weaker, longer-distance edges in the majority between networks. However, no significant diagnosis-by-sex interaction effects were observed on global SMP. These findings suggest increased indirect functional connectivity in the autistic brain is persistent from adolescence to adulthood and is indicative of reduced functional network integration.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hbm.24777DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6864892PMC
December 2019

Empathy and emotion regulation: An integrative account.

Prog Brain Res 2019 10;247:273-304. Epub 2019 May 10.

School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom. Electronic address:

How we understand and respond to others' emotions (i.e., empathy) may be influenced by the regulatory processes that are used to shape which emotions we and others have (i.e., emotion regulation). Empathy and emotion regulation are complex multidimensional constructs and the relationship between their component processes is not well characterized. To enable future work to examine their relationship more closely, this chapter presents an integrative framework of empathy and emotion regulation. We begin by delineating the component processes that underlie empathy and emotion regulation, and the neural underpinnings of these processes. We then present an integrative framework describing the processes of empathy and how these may be acted upon by distinct regulatory strategies. We conclude with a brief consideration of contextual influences on empathy and emotion regulation using a reward-based heuristic.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2019.03.024DOI Listing
March 2020

Atypical Reward-Driven Modulation of Mimicry-Related Neural Activity in Autism.

Front Psychiatry 2019 16;10:327. Epub 2019 May 16.

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in social functioning and difficulties in forming social bonds. According to the social motivation theory of ASD, people with ASD fail to attend social stimuli because they do not experience them as rewarding, resulting in deficits in social cognition. In neurotypical (NT) individuals, more rewarding faces have been shown to elicit greater spontaneous facial mimicry. This association between reward and mimicry is reduced in people with high autistic traits, suggesting that altered reward processing might explain the deficits in spontaneous facial mimicry observed in individuals with ASD. In a previous study, we observed that learned reward value of a face modulates mimicry-related neural response to it and that this modulation is reduced in people with high autistic traits. Using an identical evaluative conditioning paradigm where neutral faces were conditioned with high and low rewards, we tested the modulating effect of reward value on mimicry-related brain activity in a group of adults with and without ASD. We focused on the activity in a cluster within the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) identified through an independent meta-analysis of 139 neuroimaging studies of mimicry, in response to passively viewing videos of the conditioned faces. The blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response contrast of high- vs. low-reward faces was reduced in participants with ASD compared to NT controls. The extent of reward-driven modulation was negatively correlated with autistic traits across the whole sample. Our results indicate that the mimicry-related brain response is less modulated by learned reward value in individuals with ASD when compared to NT controls. In previous studies, we found in a similar sample that being mimicked by faces was associated with less reward-related brain response in individuals ASD compared to an NT sample, suggesting that the link between reward and mimicry is affected in both directions in ASD. Together, this reduced bidirectional link between reward and mimicry can point to a potential mechanism underlying some of the social cognitive features of ASD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00327DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6532344PMC
May 2019

Building blocks of joint attention: Early sensitivity to having one's own gaze followed.

Dev Cogn Neurosci 2019 06 5;37:100631. Epub 2019 Mar 5.

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom; Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Detecting when one's own gaze has been followed is a critical component of joint attention, but little is known about its development. To address this issue, we used electroencephalography (EEG) to record infant neural responses at 6.5 and 9.5 months during observation of an adult either turning to look at the same object as the infant (congruent actor), or turning to look at a different object (incongruent actor). We also used a preferential looking paradigm to investigate whether infants would demonstrate a preference for the congruent versus incongruent actor. Greater suppression of alpha band activity in the congruent compared to incongruent condition was revealed at both ages in central and parietal regions. However, the effect of congruency on alpha suppression was stronger at 9.5 months, and only at this age did infants demonstrate a preference towards looking at the congruent actor. Together, these results suggest that although infants are sensitive to others' gaze following from early on, important neural and behavioural developments occur between 6.5 and 9.5 months.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2019.100631DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6556871PMC
June 2019

Empathy modulates the temporal structure of social attention.

Proc Biol Sci 2018 Dec;285(1893):20181716

1 Centre for Autism , University of Reading , Reading RG6 6AL , UK.

Individuals with low empathy often show reduced attention towards social stimuli. A limitation of this literature is the lack of empirical work that has explicitly characterized how this relationship manifests itself over time. We investigate this issue by analysing data from two large eye-tracking datasets (total n = 176). Via growth-curve analysis, we demonstrate that self-reported empathy (as measured by the empathy quotient-EQ) predicts the temporal evolution of gaze behaviour under conditions where social and non-social stimuli compete for attention. In both datasets, we found that EQ not only predicted a global increase in social attention, but predicted a different temporal profile of social attention. Specifically, we detected a reliable effect of empathy on gaze towards social images after prolonged viewing. An analysis of switch latencies revealed that low-EQ observers switched gaze away from an initially fixated social image more frequently and at earlier latencies than high-EQ observers. Our analyses demonstrate that modelling these temporal components of gaze signals may reveal useful behavioural phenotypes. The explanatory power of this approach may provide enhanced biomarkers for conditions marked by deficits in empathy-related processes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.1716DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6304059PMC
December 2018

The oxytocin receptor gene predicts brain activity during an emotion recognition task in autism.

Mol Autism 2019 12;10:12. Epub 2019 Mar 12.

2Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Background: Autism is a highly varied and heritable neurodevelopmental condition, and common variants explain approximately 50% of the genetic variance of autism. One of the genes implicated in autism is the oxytocin receptor (). The current study combined genetic and brain imaging (fMRI) data to examine the moderating effect of genotype on the association between diagnosis and brain activity in response to a test of cognitive empathy.

Methods: Participants were adolescents (mean age = 14.7 ± 1.7) who were genotyped for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the and underwent functional brain imaging while completing the adolescent version of the 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' Test (Eyes Test).

Results: Two (rs2254298, rs53576) of the five SNPs examined were significantly associated with brain activity during the Eyes Test, and three of the SNPs (rs2254298, rs53576, rs2268491) interacted with diagnostic status to predict brain activity. All of the effects localized to the right supramarginal gyrus (rSMG) and an overlap analysis revealed a large overlap of the effects. An exploratory analysis showed that activity within an anatomically defined rSMG and genotype can predict diagnostic status with reasonable accuracy.

Conclusions: This is one of the first studies to investigate and brain function in autism. The findings suggest a neurogenetic mechanism by which -dependent activity within the rSMG is related to the aetiology of autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13229-019-0258-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6419364PMC
May 2019

The Effects of Maternal Mirroring on the Development of Infant Social Expressiveness: The Case of Infant Cleft Lip.

Neural Plast 2018 17;2018:5314657. Epub 2018 Dec 17.

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK.

Parent-infant social interactions start early in development, with infants showing active communicative expressions by just two months. A key question is how this social capacity develops. Maternal mirroring of infant expressions is considered an important, intuitive, parenting response, but evidence is sparse in the first two months concerning the conditions under which mirroring occurs and its developmental sequelae, including in clinical samples where the infant's social expressiveness may be affected. We investigated these questions by comparing the development of mother-infant interactions between a sample where the infant had cleft lip and a normal, unaffected, comparison sample. We videotaped dyads in their homes five times from one to ten weeks and used a microanalytic coding scheme for maternal and infant behaviours, including infant social expressions, and maternal mirroring and marking responses. We also recorded maternal gaze to the infant, using eye-tracking glasses. Although infants with cleft lip did show communicative behaviours, the rate of their development was slower than in comparison infants. This group difference was mediated by a lower rate of mirroring of infant expressions by mothers of infants with cleft lip; this effect was, in turn, partly accounted for by reduced gaze to the infant's mouth, although the clarity of infant social expressions (indexed by cleft severity) and maternal self-blame regarding the cleft were also influential. Results indicate the robustness of parent-infant interactions but also their sensitivity to specific variations in interactants' appearance and behaviour. Parental mirroring appears critical in infant social development, likely supported by the mirror neuron system and underlying clinical and, possibly, cultural differences in infant behaviour. These findings suggest new avenues for clinical intervention.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2018/5314657DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6311812PMC
March 2019

A cross-cultural study of autistic traits across India, Japan and the UK.

Mol Autism 2018 5;9:52. Epub 2018 Nov 5.

1Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK.

Background: There is a global need for brief screening instruments that can identify key indicators for autism to support frontline professionals in their referral decision-making. Although a universal set of conditions, there may be subtle differences in expression, identification and reporting of autistic traits across cultures. In order to assess the potential for any measure for cross-cultural screening use, it is important to understand the relative performance of such measures in different cultures. Our study aimed to identify the items on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ)-Child that are most predictive of an autism diagnosis among children aged 4-9 years across samples from India, Japan and the UK.

Methods: We analysed parent-reported AQ-Child data from India (73 children with an autism diagnosis and 81 neurotypical children), Japan (116 children with autism and 190 neurotypical children) and the UK (488 children with autism and 532 neurotypical children). None of the children had a reported existing diagnosis of intellectual disability. Discrimination indices (DI) and positive predictive values (PPV) were used to identify the most predictive items in each country.

Results: Sixteen items in the Indian sample, 15 items in the Japanese sample and 28 items in the UK sample demonstrated excellent discriminatory power (DI ≥ 0.5 and PPV ≥ 0.7), suggesting these items represent the strongest indicators for predicting an autism diagnosis within these countries. Across cultures, good performing items were largely overlapping, with five key indicator items appearing across all three countries (can easily keep track of several different people's conversations, enjoys social chit-chat, knows how to tell if someone listening to him/her is getting bored, good at social chit-chat, finds it difficult to work out people's intentions). Four items indicated potential cultural differences. One item was highly discriminative in Japan but poorly discriminative (DI < 0.3) in the UK and India, and a further item had excellent discrimination properties in the UK but poorly discriminated in the Indian and Japanese samples. Two additional items were highly discriminative in two cultures but poor in the third.

Conclusions: Cross-cultural overlap in the items most predictive of an autism diagnosis supports the general notion of universality in autistic traits whilst also highlighting that there can be cultural differences associated with certain autistic traits. These findings have the potential to inform the development of a brief global screening tool for autism. Further development and evaluation work is needed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13229-018-0235-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6217788PMC
December 2018

Neural self-representation in autistic women and association with 'compensatory camouflaging'.

Autism 2019 07 24;23(5):1210-1223. Epub 2018 Oct 24.

2 University of Cambridge, UK.

Prior work has revealed sex/gender-dependent autistic characteristics across behavioural and neural/biological domains. It remains unclear whether and how neural sex/gender differences are related to behavioural sex/gender differences in autism. Here, we examined whether atypical neural responses during mentalizing and self-representation are sex/gender-dependent in autistic adults and explored whether 'camouflaging' (acting as if behaviourally neurotypical) is associated with sex/gender-dependent neural responses. In total,  = 119 adults (33 typically developing males, 29 autistic males, 29 typically developing females and 28 autistic females) participated in a task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm to assess neural activation within right temporo-parietal junction and ventromedial prefrontal cortex during mentalizing and self-representation. Camouflaging in autism was quantified as the discrepancy between extrinsic behaviour in social-interpersonal contexts and intrinsic status. While autistic men showed hypoactive right temporo-parietal junction mentalizing and ventromedial prefrontal cortex self-representation responses compared to typically developing men, such neural responses in autistic women were not different from typically developing women. In autistic women only, increasing camouflaging was associated with heightened ventromedial prefrontal cortex self-representation response. There is a lack of impaired neural self-representation and mentalizing in autistic women compared to typically developing women. Camouflaging is heightened in autistic women and may relate to neural self-representation response. These results reveal brain-behaviour relations that help explain sex/gender-heterogeneity in social brain function in autism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1362361318807159DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6589917PMC
July 2019

The Cambridge Sympathy Test: Self-reported sympathy and distress in autism.

PLoS One 2018 27;13(7):e0198273. Epub 2018 Jul 27.

Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Background: Difficulties with aspects of social interaction, including empathy, comprise a core symptom of autism spectrum conditions (autism). Sympathy is a specific form of empathy and involves both cognitive and affective empathy. Data are presented from a new task of self-reported sympathy and personal distress.

Methods: Participants with autism (93 males; 161 females) and controls (40 males, 93 females) took part in an online survey via the Autism Research Centre or Cambridge Psychology websites. Participants completed a task where they were asked to rate photographic images that were either of distressing, neutral or happy scenes, according to the amount of sympathy they had for the individual in the photo and the degree of personal distress they felt. All participants also completed the Empathy Quotient (EQ).

Results: Significant differences were found between the autism and control groups for both self-reported sympathy and personal distress, with participants with autism giving lower ratings than controls. Control females scored significantly higher than control males in both sympathy and distress. Sympathy and distress ratings in the autism group did not differ significantly by sex. EQ showed positive correlations with sympathy and distress scores.

Conclusions: Using a new measure of self-reported sympathy, we found that both males and females with autism gave lower ratings of sympathy when viewing people in distressing scenarios, compared to controls.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0198273PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6063395PMC
December 2018

Lack of Privileged Access to Awareness for Rewarding Social Scenes in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

J Autism Dev Disord 2018 Oct;48(10):3311-3318

Centre for Autism, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL, UK.

Reduced social motivation is hypothesised to underlie social behavioural symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The extent to which rewarding social stimuli are granted privileged access to awareness in ASD is currently unknown. We use continuous flash suppression to investigate whether individuals with and without ASD show privileged access to awareness for social over nonsocial rewarding scenes that are closely matched for stimulus features. Strong evidence for a privileged access to awareness for rewarding social over nonsocial scenes was observed in neurotypical adults. No such privileged access was seen in ASD individuals, and moderate support for the null model was noted. These results suggest that the purported deficits in social motivation in ASD may extend to early processing mechanisms.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3595-9DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153919PMC
October 2018

Genome-wide analyses of self-reported empathy: correlations with autism, schizophrenia, and anorexia nervosa.

Transl Psychiatry 2018 03 12;8(1):35. Epub 2018 Mar 12.

Department of Psychiatry, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK.

Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to the emotional states of other individuals. It is an important psychological process that facilitates navigating social interactions and maintaining relationships, which are important for well-being. Several psychological studies have identified difficulties in both self-report and performance-based measures of empathy in a range of psychiatric conditions. To date, no study has systematically investigated the genetic architecture of empathy using genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Here we report the results of the largest GWAS of empathy to date using a well-validated self-report measure of empathy, the Empathy Quotient (EQ), in 46,861 research participants from 23andMe, Inc. We identify 11 suggestive loci (P < 1 × 10), though none were significant at P < 2.5 × 10 after correcting for multiple testing. The most significant SNP was identified in the non-stratified analysis (rs4882760; P = 4.29 × 10), and is an intronic SNP in TMEM132C. The EQ had a modest but significant narrow-sense heritability (0.11 ± 0.014; P = 1.7 × 10). As predicted, based on earlier work, we confirmed a significant female advantage on the EQ (P < 2 × 10, Cohen's d = 0.65). We identified similar SNP heritability and high genetic correlation between the sexes. Also, as predicted, we identified a significant negative genetic correlation between autism and the EQ (r = -0.27 ± 0.07, P = 1.63 × 10). We also identified a significant positive genetic correlation between the EQ and risk for schizophrenia (r = 0.19 ± 0.04; P = 1.36 × 10), risk for anorexia nervosa (r = 0.32 ± 0.09; P = 6 × 10), and extraversion (r = 0.45 ± 0.08; 5.7 × 10). This is the first GWAS of self-reported empathy. The results suggest that the genetic variations associated with empathy also play a role in psychiatric conditions and psychological traits.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41398-017-0082-6DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5845860PMC
March 2018

Looking at My Own Face: Visual Processing Strategies in Self-Other Face Recognition.

Front Psychol 2018 13;9:121. Epub 2018 Feb 13.

Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom.

We live in an age of 'selfies.' Yet, how we look at our own faces has seldom been systematically investigated. In this study we test if the visual processing of the highly familiar self-face is different from other faces, using psychophysics and eye-tracking. This paradigm also enabled us to test the association between the psychophysical properties of self-face representation and visual processing strategies involved in self-face recognition. Thirty-three adults performed a self-face recognition task from a series of self-other face morphs with simultaneous eye-tracking. Participants were found to look longer at the lower part of the face for self-face compared to other-face. Participants with a more distinct self-face representation, as indexed by a steeper slope of the psychometric response curve for self-face recognition, were found to look longer at upper part of the faces identified as 'self' vs. those identified as 'other'. This result indicates that self-face representation can influence where we look when we process our own vs. others' faces. We also investigated the association of autism-related traits with self-face processing metrics since autism has previously been associated with atypical self-processing. The study did not find any self-face specific association with autistic traits, suggesting that autism-related features may be related to self-processing in a domain specific manner.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00121DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816906PMC
February 2018

Do clinically anxious children cluster according to their expression of factors that maintain child anxiety?

J Affect Disord 2018 03 3;229:469-476. Epub 2018 Jan 3.

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, PO Box 238, Reading RG6 6AL, United Kingdom.

Background: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for childhood anxiety disorders, yet a significant proportion of children do not benefit from it. CBT for child anxiety disorders typically includes a range of strategies that may not all be applicable for all affected children. This study explored whether there are distinct subgroups of children with anxiety disorders who are characterized by their responses to measures of the key mechanisms that are targeted in CBT (i.e. interpretation bias, perceived control, avoidance, physiological arousal, and social communication).

Methods: 379 clinically anxious children (7-12 years) provided indices of threat interpretation, perceived control, expected negative emotions and avoidance and measures of heart rate recovery following a speech task. Parents also reported on their children's social communication difficulties using the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ).

Results: Latent profile analysis identified three groups, reflecting (i) 'Typically anxious' (the majority of the sample and more likely to have Generalized anxiety disorder); (ii) 'social difficulties' (characterized by high SCQ and more likely to have social anxiety disorder and be male); (iii) 'Avoidant' (characterized by low threat interpretation but high avoidance and low perceived control).

Limitations: Some measures may have been influenced by confounding variables (e.g. physical variability in heart rate recovery). Sample characteristics of the group may limit the generalizability of the results.

Conclusions: Clinically anxious children appear to fall in to subgroups that might benefit from more targeted treatments that focus on specific maintenance factors. Treatment studies are now required to establish whether this approach would lead to more effective and efficient treatments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2017.12.078DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5814677PMC
March 2018

Thinking about others and the future: Neural correlates of perspective taking relate to preferences for delayed rewards.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2018 02;18(1):35-42

Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL, UK.

We infer the thoughts and feelings of others by taking their perspectives. Similar processes could be used to understand how we will be affected by future events, by allowing us to take the perspective of our future self. In this paper, we test this idea using a previously presented framework for guiding predictions. The framework proposes that a shared neural mechanism is involved in controlling egocentric bias, both while shifting our perspective away from self and towards others, and while shifting our perspective from immediate to future perspectives. To test this framework, 36 adults performed an intertemporal choice task. They were then scanned using 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing a false-belief "localizer" task, which requires egocentric bias control. A positive correlation was observed between the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) response during the false-belief task, and preferences for delayed rewards in intertemporal choices. A subset of participants performed the intertemporal choice task again in the scanner, which revealed that the response of the same rTPJ cluster, individually localized during the false-belief task, was higher during delayed over immediate reward choices. In addition, functional connectivity between the rTPJ and ventromedial prefrontal cortex was found to differ between immediate and delayed choices. The current results indicate an overlap in processes of egocentric bias control and those that determine preferences in intertemporal choices, offering a social cognitive explanation for why rewards are devalued with delay in temporal discounting.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-017-0550-8DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5823963PMC
February 2018

Individual differences in responsivity to social rewards: Insights from two eye-tracking tasks.

PLoS One 2017 18;12(10):e0185146. Epub 2017 Oct 18.

Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences University of Reading, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, United Kingdom.

Humans generally prefer social over nonsocial stimuli from an early age. Reduced preference for social rewards has been observed in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC). This preference has typically been noted in separate tasks that measure orienting toward and engaging with social stimuli. In this experiment, we used two eye-tracking tasks to index both of these aspects of social preference in in 77 typical adults. We used two measures, global effect and preferential looking time. The global effect task measures saccadic deviation toward a social stimulus (related to 'orienting'), while the preferential looking task records gaze duration bias toward social stimuli (relating to 'engaging'). Social rewards were found to elicit greater saccadic deviation and greater gaze duration bias, suggesting that they have both greater salience and higher value compared to nonsocial rewards. Trait empathy was positively correlated with the measure of relative value of social rewards, but not with their salience. This study thus elucidates the relationship of empathy with social reward processing.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185146PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5646758PMC
October 2017

How mimicry influences the neural correlates of reward: An fMRI study.

Neuropsychologia 2018 07 18;116(Pt A):61-67. Epub 2017 Aug 18.

Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL, UK. Electronic address:

Mimicry has been suggested to function as a "social glue", a key mechanism that helps to build social rapport. It leads to increased feeling of closeness toward the mimicker as well as greater liking, suggesting close bidirectional links with reward. In recent work using eye-gaze tracking, we have demonstrated that the reward value of being mimicked, measured using a preferential looking paradigm, is directly proportional to trait empathy (Neufeld and Chakrabarti, 2016). In the current manuscript, we investigated the reward value of the act of mimicking, using a simple task manipulation that involved allowing or inhibiting spontaneous facial mimicry in response to dynamic expressions of positive emotion. We found greater reward-related neural activity in response to the condition where mimicry was allowed compared to that where mimicry was inhibited. The magnitude of this link from mimicry to reward response was positively correlated to trait empathy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.08.018DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6078711PMC
July 2018

The EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP): clinical characterisation.

Mol Autism 2017 23;8:27. Epub 2017 Jun 23.

Regulatory Affairs, Pharmaceutical Development, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Pharmaceuticals, Grenzacherstrasse 124, CH-4070 Basel, Switzerland.

Background: The EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP) is to date the largest multi-centre, multi-disciplinary observational study on biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The current paper describes the clinical characteristics of the LEAP cohort and examines age, sex and IQ differences in ASD core symptoms and common co-occurring psychiatric symptoms. A companion paper describes the overall design and experimental protocol and outlines the strategy to identify stratification biomarkers.

Methods: From six research centres in four European countries, we recruited 437 children and adults with ASD and 300 controls between the ages of 6 and 30 years with IQs varying between 50 and 148. We conducted in-depth clinical characterisation including a wide range of observational, interview and questionnaire measures of the ASD phenotype, as well as co-occurring psychiatric symptoms.

Results: The cohort showed heterogeneity in ASD symptom presentation, with only minimal to moderate site differences on core clinical and cognitive measures. On both parent-report interview and questionnaire measures, ASD symptom severity was lower in adults compared to children and adolescents. The precise pattern of differences varied across measures, but there was some evidence of both lower social symptoms and lower repetitive behaviour severity in adults. Males had higher ASD symptom scores than females on clinician-rated and parent interview diagnostic measures but not on parent-reported dimensional measures of ASD symptoms. In contrast, self-reported ASD symptom severity was higher in adults compared to adolescents, and in adult females compared to males. Higher scores on ASD symptom measures were moderately associated with lower IQ. Both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive ADHD symptoms were lower in adults than in children and adolescents, and males with ASD had higher levels of inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive ADHD symptoms than females.

Conclusions: The established phenotypic heterogeneity in ASD is well captured in the LEAP cohort. Variation both in core ASD symptom severity and in commonly co-occurring psychiatric symptoms were systematically associated with sex, age and IQ. The pattern of ASD symptom differences with age and sex also varied by whether these were clinician ratings or parent- or self-reported which has important implications for establishing stratification biomarkers and for their potential use as outcome measures in clinical trials.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13229-017-0145-9DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5481972PMC
March 2018
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