Eye Contact May Overstimulate Brains of People With ASD Maintaining direct eye contact with others may spur uncomfortable overstimulation of the brain in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), finds a recent study in Scientific Reports. Although lack of eye contact is commonly attributed to missed social cues or indifference, the study authors suggest that an overreaction in the ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   October 01, 2017
Eye Contact May Overstimulate Brains of People With ASD
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   October 01, 2017
Eye Contact May Overstimulate Brains of People With ASD
The ASHA Leader, October 2017, Vol. 22, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22102017.12
The ASHA Leader, October 2017, Vol. 22, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22102017.12
Maintaining direct eye contact with others may spur uncomfortable overstimulation of the brain in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), finds a recent study in Scientific Reports. Although lack of eye contact is commonly attributed to missed social cues or indifference, the study authors suggest that an overreaction in the brain may be the true cause.
Researchers from the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital focused on the subcortical system, which contains pathways that carry visual information from the eyes to parts of the brain that stimulate emotions, help newborn babies recognize familiar faces and influence other social actions.

While eye contact is commonly attributed to missed social cues or indifference, a new study concluded that an overreaction in the brain may really be the cause of this aversion.

The study included 23 adults and children with ASD (mean age of 22.6) and 20 age-matched neurotypical participants. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure differences in activation of the subcortical system responsible for processing faces. They scanned participants as they watched images of neutral, happy, angry and fearful faces.
While the face-recognition subcortical region was active in both groups, the areas were most highly active in people with ASD when they were forced to focus on the eyes, especially when the faces expressed fear.
“The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to a lack of concern,” says lead researcher Nouchine Hadjikhani, associate professor of radiology at Harvard University.
“Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from over-activation in a particular part of the brain.”
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October 2017
Volume 22, Issue 10