Mol Autism 2015 30;6:20. Epub 2015 Mar 30.
Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AL UK.
Background: Atypical self-processing is an emerging theme in autism research, suggested by lower self-reference effect in memory, and atypical neural responses to visual self-representations. Most research on physical self-processing in autism uses visual stimuli. However, the self is a multimodal construct, and therefore, it is essential to test self-recognition in other sensory modalities as well. Self-recognition in the auditory modality remains relatively unexplored and has not been tested in relation to autism and related traits. This study investigates self-recognition in auditory and visual domain in the general population and tests if it is associated with autistic traits.
Methods: Thirty-nine neurotypical adults participated in a two-part study. In the first session, individual participant's voice was recorded and face was photographed and morphed respectively with voices and faces from unfamiliar identities. In the second session, participants performed a 'self-identification' task, classifying each morph as 'self' voice (or face) or an 'other' voice (or face). All participants also completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). For each sensory modality, slope of the self-recognition curve was used as individual self-recognition metric. These two self-recognition metrics were tested for association between each other, and with autistic traits.
Results: Fifty percent 'self' response was reached for a higher percentage of self in the auditory domain compared to the visual domain (t = 3.142; P < 0.01). No significant correlation was noted between self-recognition bias across sensory modalities (τ = -0.165, P = 0.204). Higher recognition bias for self-voice was observed in individuals higher in autistic traits (τ AQ = 0.301, P = 0.008). No such correlation was observed between recognition bias for self-face and autistic traits (τ AQ = -0.020, P = 0.438).
Conclusions: Our data shows that recognition bias for physical self-representation is not related across sensory modalities. Further, individuals with higher autistic traits were better able to discriminate self from other voices, but this relation was not observed with self-face. A narrow self-other overlap in the auditory domain seen in individuals with high autistic traits could arise due to enhanced perceptual processing of auditory stimuli often observed in individuals with autism.