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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Jan;9(1):98-105. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss106. Epub 2012 Sep 13.

Functional brain networks and white matter underlying theory-of-mind in autism.

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Department of Psychology, University of AlabaCIRC 235 G, 1719 6th Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0021, USA.


Human beings constantly engage in attributing causal explanations to one's own and to others' actions, and theory-of-mind (ToM) is critical in making such inferences. Although children learn causal attribution early in development, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are known to have impairments in the development of intentional causality. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) study investigated the neural correlates of physical and intentional causal attribution in people with ASDs. In the fMRI scanner, 15 adolescents and adults with ASDs and 15 age- and IQ-matched typically developing peers made causal judgments about comic strips presented randomly in an event-related design. All participants showed robust activation in bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus at the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in response to intentional causality. Participants with ASDs showed lower activation in TPJ, right inferior frontal gyrus and left premotor cortex. Significantly weaker functional connectivity was also found in the ASD group between TPJ and motor areas during intentional causality. DTI data revealed significantly reduced fractional anisotropy in ASD participants in white matter underlying the temporal lobe. In addition to underscoring the role of TPJ in ToM, this study found an interaction between motor simulation and mentalizing systems in intentional causal attribution and its possible discord in autism.


autism; causal attribution; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; functional MRI; functional connectivity; intentional causality; physical causality; theory-of-mind

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