Dysfunctions of the human mirror neuron system have been postulated to underlie some deficits in autism spectrum disorders including poor imitative performance and impaired social skills. Using three reaction time experiments addressing mirror neuron system functions under simple and complex conditions, we examined 20 adult autism spectrum disorder participants and 20 healthy controls matched for age, gender and education. Participants performed simple finger-lifting movements in response to (1) biological finger and non-biological dot movement stimuli, (2) acoustic stimuli and (3) combined visual-acoustic stimuli with different contextual (compatible/incompatible) and temporal (simultaneous/asynchronous) relation. Mixed model analyses revealed slower reaction times in autism spectrum disorder. Both groups responded faster to biological compared to non-biological stimuli (Experiment 1) implying intact processing advantage for biological stimuli in autism spectrum disorder. In Experiment 3, both groups had similar 'interference effects' when stimuli were presented simultaneously. However, autism spectrum disorder participants had abnormally slow responses particularly when incompatible stimuli were presented consecutively. Our results suggest imitative control deficits rather than global imitative system impairments.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)