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Autism. 2012 Jul;16(4):406-19. doi: 10.1177/1362361311430404. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

The rubber hand illusion in children with autism spectrum disorders: delayed influence of combined tactile and visual input on proprioception.

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Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, 1601 23rd Ave South Suite 3057, Nashville, TN 37212, USA.


In the rubber hand illusion, perceived hand ownership can be transferred to a rubber hand after synchronous visual and tactile stimulation. Perceived body ownership and self-other relation are foundational for development of self-awareness, imitation, and empathy, which are all affected in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We examined the rubber hand illusion in children with and without ASD. Children with ASD were initially less susceptible to the illusion than the comparison group, yet showed the effects of the illusion after 6 minutes. Delayed susceptibility to the illusion may result from atypical multisensory temporal integration and/or an unusually strong reliance on proprioception. Children with ASD who displayed less empathy were significantly less likely to experience the illusion than those with more intact ability to express empathy. A better understanding of body representation in ASD may elucidate neural underpinnings of social deficits, thus informing future intervention approaches.

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