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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Feb 20;115(8):1937-1942. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1714655115. Epub 2018 Jan 22.

Heritable aspects of biological motion perception and its covariation with autistic traits.

Wang Y1,2, Wang L1,2, Xu Q1,2, Liu D1,2, Chen L1,2, Troje NF3, He S4,5, Jiang Y6,2.

Author information

1
State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100101.
2
Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100049.
3
Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6.
4
State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100101.
5
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
6
State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China 100101; yijiang@psych.ac.cn.

Abstract

The ability to detect biological motion (BM) and decipher the meaning therein is essential to human survival and social interaction. However, at the individual level, we are not equally equipped with this ability. In particular, impaired BM perception and abnormal neural responses to BM have been observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by devastating social deficits. Here, we examined the underlying sources of individual differences in two abilities fundamental to BM perception (i.e., the abilities to process local kinematic and global configurational information of BM) and explored whether BM perception shares a common genetic origin with autistic traits. Using the classical twin method, we found reliable genetic influences on BM perception and revealed a clear dissociation between its two components-whereas genes account for about 50% of the individual variation in local BM processing, global BM processing is largely shaped by environment. Critically, participants' sensitivity to local BM cues was negatively correlated with their autistic traits through the dimension of social communication, with the covariation largely mediated by shared genetic effects. These findings demonstrate that the ability to process BM, especially with regard to its inherent kinetics, is heritable. They also advance our understanding of the sources of the linkage between autistic symptoms and BM perception deficits, opening up the possibility of treating the ability to process local BM information as a distinct hallmark of social cognition.

KEYWORDS:

autistic traits; behavioral genetics; biological motion; social cognition; twins

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PMID:
29358377
PMCID:
PMC5828593
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1714655115
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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