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Title: Investigating the social brain in autism
Author: Ashwin, C.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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People with autism show impairments on tasks involving social-emotional processing. Findings from face perception studies suggest their deficits may be due to a more feature-based approach, compared to a more holistic-based style. Research is revealing that certain areas of the brain are important for processing social and emotional information and, together, these brain areas have become known as the ‘social brain’. Studies are revealing evidence for abnormalities of the social brain in autism, particularly abnormal functioning of the amygdala. This dissertation reports experiments investigating cognitive and neural processing in adults with and without autism during various social-emotional tasks involving functions of the social brain. The first three chapters review the literature on autism, the social brain and the participants involved in the research. The following three chapters describe a series of cognitive-behavioural experiments looking at attention biases and their behavioural effects in adults with and without autism during social-emotional processing. These experiments report new evidence of both normal and abnormal processing in autism, and suggest some basic social-emotional mechanisms may be intact in autism. The remaining chapters describe neuroimaging experiments investigating the perception of fearful facial expression and gaze judgements in adults with and without autism. The results suggest control participants may rely on higher-level brain areas involved in automatic affective appraisal and mentalising, while participants with autism rely on early visual perceptual areas of the brain involved in effortful and conscious processing of social-emotional stimuli. This is in line with previous findings from cognitive studies and offers possibilities for a neural basis of these differnces. The conclusion summarises these findings, and discusses how this research may provide a basis for future studies of social-emotional functioning in autism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available