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Scientists Discover Why People With Autism Can't Identify "Copy Cats"

Update Date: Aug 05, 2014 05:52 PM EDT

Suffering autism decreases individual's sensitivity of "being imitated," according to past research. While the reason has largely been elusive, new findings suggest that this is because people with autism spectrum disorders have lower activity in the brain region for understanding if other others are imitating or "copying" their movements.

Lead researchers Professor Norihiro Sadato, a professor of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) Hirotaka Kosaka, a specially-assigned associate professor of the University of Fukui, and Toshio Munesue, a professor of Kanazawa University, studied the affects by having participants undergo brain scans via functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants' brain activity was measured when they witnessed their movements being imitated by others.

Brain activity during imitation exposure and brain activity when not exposed to imitation by others were then recorded and compared.

The findings revealed that healthy participants experienced an increase in activity in their extrastriate body area (EBA) when they noticed that they were being imitated. Researchers explain that this extrastriate body area is located in the visual cortex and is responsible for visual processing. The brain region also experiences a surge in activity during the perception of human parts.

However, autistic participants did not experience a surge in extrastriate body area activity when they looked at others imitating them. Therefore, researchers said the findings suggest that this is the reason why people with autism spectrum disorders are not sensitive to "being imitated".

Researchers said that the latest study provides insight into autism spectrum disorders and how "imitation" could be used to identify and treat the developmental disorder.

The findings will be published in Neuroscience Research.

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