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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2009 Mar;4(1):70-8. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsn038. Epub 2009 Jan 17.

Body expressions of emotion do not trigger fear contagion in autism spectrum disorder.

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  • 1Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA, USA.


Although there is evidence of emotion perception deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research on this topic has been mostly confined to perception of emotions in faces. Using behavioral measures and 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined whether such deficits extend to the perception of bodily expressed emotions. We found that individuals with ASD, in contrast to neurotypical (NT) individuals, did not exhibit a differential pattern of brain activation to bodies expressing fear as compared with emotionally neutral bodies. ASD and NT individuals showed similar patterns of activation in response to bodies engaged in emotionally neutral actions, with the exception of decreased activation in the inferior frontal cortex and the anterior insula in ASD. We discuss these findings in relation to possible abnormalities in a network of cortical and subcortical mechanisms involved in social orienting and emotion contagion. Our data suggest that emotion perception deficits in ASD may be due to compromised processing of the emotional component of observed actions.

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