Physiological Responses to Social and Nonsocial Stimuli in Neurotypical Adults With High and Low Levels of Autistic Traits: Implications for Understanding Nonsocial Drive in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Clarence J. Singleton, Chris Ashwin, Mark Brosnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
211 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Researchers have suggested that the two primary cognitive features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a drive toward nonsocial processing and a reduced drive toward social processing, may be unrelated to each other in the neurotypical (NT) population and may therefore require separate explanations. Drive toward types of processing may be related to physiological arousal to categories of stimuli, such as social (e.g., faces) or nonsocial (e.g., trains). This study investigated how autistic traits in an NT population might relate to differences in physiological responses to nonsocial compared with social stimuli. NT participants were recruited to examine these differences in those with high vs. low degrees of ASD traits. Forty-six participants (21 male, 25 female) completed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) to measure ASD traits before viewing a series of 24 images while skin conductance response (SCR) was recorded. Images included six nonsocial, six social, six face-like cartoons, and six nonsocial (relating to participants' personal interests). Analysis revealed that those with a higher AQ had significantly greater SCR arousal to nonsocial stimuli than those with a low AQ, and the higher the AQ, the greater the difference between SCR arousal to nonsocial and social stimuli. This is the first study to identify the relationship between AQ and physiological response to nonsocial stimuli, and a relationship between physiological response to both social and nonsocial stimuli, suggesting that physiological response may underlie the atypical drive toward nonsocial processing seen in ASD, and that at the physiological level at least the social and nonsocial in ASD may be related to one another.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-703
Number of pages9
JournalAutism Research
Volume7
Issue number6
Early online date24 Oct 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014

Keywords

  • AQ
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Non-social psychophysiology
  • Social cognition

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