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August 04, 2011

CMU Brain Imaging Research Reveals Why Autistic Individual Confuse Pronouns

A new brain imaging study published in the journal "Brain" by scientists at Carnegie Mellon provides an explanation as to why autistic individuals' use of the wrong pronoun is more than simply a word choice problem.

Marcel Just, Akiko Mizuno and their collaborators at CMU's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging (CCBI) found that errors in choosing a self-referring pronoun reflect a disordered neural representation of the self, a function processed by at least two brain areas - one frontal and one posterior.

For the study, the research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brain activation pattern and the synchronization of activation across brain areas in young adults with high-functioning autism with control participants during a language task that required rapid pronoun comprehension.

The results revealed a significantly diminished synchronization in autism between a frontal area (the right anterior insula) and a posterior area (precuneus) during pronoun use in the autism group. The participants with autism also were slower and less accurate in their behavioral processing of the pronouns. In particular, the synchronization was lower in autistic participants' brains between the right anterior insula and precuneus when answering a question that contained the pronoun "you," querying something about the participant's view.

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