Date Thesis Awarded

5-2017

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Science (BS)

Department

Neuroscience

Advisor

Cheryl Dickter

Committee Member

Josh Burk

Committee Member

Randolph Coleman

Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by core deficits in social, communication, and motor skills (CDC, 2013). Deficits in emotional processing have also been identified, especially with negative emotions and surprise. These behavioral deficits are reflected in differences in neural responses, specifically with the P1 and N170 event-related potential components. The current study explored how these neural differences in emotion processing are modified by autistic behaviors in a subclinical population using a task that varied both by facial features available and instructions intended to modify the type of processing occurring. The results supported previous findings that those with low levels of autistic behaviors have increased neural attention, as measured by P1 and N170 amplitude, to fearful stimuli, while those with high levels did not show higher amplitudes. Exploratory analyses using autistic behaviors as a continuous variable showed this same response pattern with surprise for P1 yet showed an increase in N170 amplitude in those with high levels of autistic behaviors. These findings maintained their significance when controlling for social anxiety-related behaviors. Additionally, the results demonstrated that, in those with high levels of autistic behaviors, less neural attention occurred in response to faces in which only the eye region was shown, contrasting the increase in neural attention in those with low levels of autistic behaviors when presented the eye region instead of a face. Together the findings indicate in a subclinical population that the impact of autistic behaviors on the processing of emotions varies by emotion as well as by the facial features available.

Available for download on Friday, May 03, 2019

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