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Intact emotion facilitation for nonsocial stimuli in autism: Is amygdala impairment in autism specific for social information?

  • MIKLE SOUTH (a1) (a2), SALLY OZONOFF (a3), YANA SUCHY (a1) (a4), RAYMOND P. KESNER (a1) (a4), WILLIAM M. McMAHON (a2) (a4) and JANET E. LAINHART (a2) (a4)...

Abstract

Atypical amygdala development may play a key role in the emergence of social disability and other symptoms of autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 2000; Schultz, 2005). The mechanisms by which this may occur have received little attention, however, and most support from behavioral and imaging studies has been concerned with socially relevant stimuli such as faces. Given the complexity of amygdala function and its known role in many other emotional tasks, we examined whether individuals with autism would demonstrate impaired performance on several tasks that have been shown to require activation of the amygdala but that do not have any explicit social meaning. Relative to a typical comparison group matched for age and IQ, our sample of 37 adolescents and adults with autism (mean age = 19.7 years) demonstrated equivalent facilitation for perception and learning of emotionally relevant stimuli. On each of four tasks, there were significant main effects of emotion condition on performance for both groups. Future research regarding atypical amygdala function and emotion processing in autism should consider whether the response to nonsocial emotion factors (including negative valence or high arousal) may be intact, despite difficulties in responding to socially relevant stimuli. (JINS, 2008, 14, 42–54.)

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Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Mikle South, Brigham Young University, Department of Psychology, 1001 Kimball Tower, P.O. Box 25543, Provo, UT 84602-5543. E-mail: mikle_south@byu.edu

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