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Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016 Mar 17;12:651-60. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S94669. eCollection 2016.

A prosocial online game for social cognition training in adolescents with high-functioning autism: an fMRI study.

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Department of Psychiatry, Kyungpook National University Hospital, Daegu, Republic of Korea.
Department of Psychiatry, Chung Ang University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Department of Psychiatry, Yonsei University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Brain Institute, Utah University, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


To help patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their social skills, effective interventions and new treatment modalities are necessary. We hypothesized that a prosocial online game would improve social cognition in ASD adolescents, as assessed using metrics of social communication, facial recognition, and emotional words. Ten ASD adolescents underwent cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) using a prosocial online game (game-CBT), and ten ASD adolescents participated in an offline-CBT. At baseline and 6 weeks later, social communication quality, correct identification of emotional words and facial emoticons, and brain activity were assessed in both groups. Social communication quality and correct response rate of emotional words and facial emoticons improved in both groups over the course of the intervention, and there were no significant differences between groups. In response to the emotional words, the brain activity within the temporal and parietal cortices increased in the game-CBT group, while the brain activity within cingulate and parietal cortices increased in the offline-CBT group. In addition, ASD adolescents in the game-CBT group showed increased brain activity within the right cingulate gyrus, left medial frontal gyrus, left cerebellum, left fusiform gyrus, left insular cortex, and sublobar area in response to facial emoticons. A prosocial online game designed for CBT was as effective as offline-CBT in ASD adolescents. Participation in the game especially increased social arousal and aided ASD adolescents in recognizing emotion. The therapy also helped participants more accurately consider associated environments in response to facial emotional stimulation. However, the online CBT was less effective than the offline-CBT at evoking emotions in response to emotional words.


autism; cognitive behavior therapy; functional magnetic resonance image; online games; sociality

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