There are two current impediments for genetic and neuroscience research in autism. First, there is no standard comprehensive model of the brain circuits and neurochemistry regulating human social behaviors (Beer & Ochsner, 2006). Second, there is as yet no mapping of gene to brain function to phenotypic expression for component skills of human social behavior (Insel & Fernald, 2004; Panksepp, 2006). Although a complete neural framework for the range of human social skills does not yet exist, research in social neuroscience has led researchers and theorists to construct models of the brain bases of social skills (Adolphs, 2002; Allman et al., 2002; Brothers, 2002; Davidson & Irwin, 2002; Erikson & Shulkin, 2003; Harmon-Jones, 2003; LaBar & Cabeza, 2006; Matthews et al., 2002; Meltzoff & Prinz, 2002; Panksepp, 2006; Porges, 2003; Posamentier & Abdi, 2003; Raichle, 2003; Rapcsak, 2003; Reich et al., 2003; Rolls, 1999; Royzman et al., 2003; Singer et al., 2004). Moreover, although there is no gene—brain—phenotype map for social behaviors, social neuroscience research models do suggest possible links between brain circuits and endophenotype component skills for complex social behavior.
This chapter constructs a component model of the brain bases of social skill from current social neuroscience findings. Three questions are addressed:
To what extent are human social behaviors innately determined?
What brain circuits and component skills for complex social behavior have been proposed?
What do these proposed brain circuits and component skills for complex social behavior tell us about the components of the diagnostic phenotype of autism?