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Poster A45, Thursday, August 16, 10:15 am – 12:00 pm, Room 2000AB

Brain-behaviour correlations of angry, dancing, thoughtful triangles: Heider & Simmel in the scanner

Brea Chouinard1, Tamara Vanderwal2, Louise Gallagher1, Clare Kelly1;1Trinity College Dublin, 2Yale Child Study Centre

Introduction: There is a robust and reliable response to videos of geometric shapes enacting a social plot, where viewers attribute intentional movement and goal-directed interactions to the shapes (Heider & Simmel, 1944). This paradigm has also proven useful for investigating interpretation of intentionality and determining the goals of others in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for whom these difficulties are paramount (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Previous research has indicated that when describing these Heider & Simmel (HS) type animations, individuals with ASD identify fewer social elements, have a larger proportion of attributions that are irrelevant to the social plot, and use fewer mental state terms than controls (Castelli, 2002; Klin, 2000). Further, neuroimaging investigations have revealed differences between individuals with and without ASD in specifically selected regions of interest during viewing of these HS-type animations (Castelli, 2002). However, the degree to which there is shared activation amongst all brain regions in individuals with ASD, that is inter-subject correlation (ISC), has not yet been studied using HS-type animations. Hence, the current study investigated ISC in individuals with ASD during viewing of a novel HS-type animation. The current project aimed to determine the extent to which information processing was synchronized across individuals with ASD as they watched an HS-type animation using inter-subject correlations (ISC). Methods: Sixteen, intellectually able, language-competent teens with ASD passively viewed an eight-minute HS-type animation in a 3T MRI scanner. Following Hasson et al. (2004) we used inter-subject correlation to detect synchronous network activation across participants during HS viewing. Outside the scanner a semi-structured social attribution task (Nippold, Mansfield, & Billow, 2007) has been used to elicit narratives, which were transcribed and will be evaluated for complexity and use of mental state language. Following establishment of ISC in ASD, relationships between use of mental state language and ISC can be evaluated to characterize associated brain-behavior relationships. Results: There was a robust pattern of inter-subject correlation, that is, areas in which brain activation was synchronized across participants with ASD as they viewed the HS-type animation. In addition to extensive ISC in visual cortices, there was synchronized activation in left frontal and parietal cortices, as well as bilateral lateral temporal cortex. In several regions within this network, including left inferior frontal and premotor cortex, individual differences in the degree of synchronization were correlated with individual differences in the complexity of language production. Conclusion: We found that passive viewing of a HS-type animation could be used to evaluate ISC in individuals with ASD. There were large amounts of brain activation shared by all individuals with ASD who watched the animation, in areas involved in attention to key object identification and social cognition in addition to visual processing. The current study validates the use of this novel, passive-viewing condition, and this will be further validated using brain-behaviour correlations in the full sample.

Topic Area: Meaning: Discourse and Pragmatics