Date Published: 10 April 2006

Asperger's Syndrome explained by weaker brain links

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have suggested a possible explanation whypeople with Asperger's Syndrome spend less time paying attention to others, namely that they benefit less from doing so due to weaker connections between brain areas.

According to recent research published in the journal Neuroimage, key impairments associated with autism, which can include a 'severe lack of social skills' and an 'inability to relate to other people' might be due to poor communication between areas of the autistic person's brain. It has previous been suggested that such impairement might be due to abnormalities in brain areas.

Dr Geoff Bird, at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said:

" The standard view of social problems in Asperger's Syndrome is that there is a problem in the part of the brain that processes faces. Our research suggests that this not the real problem: it seems to be that paying attention to faces doesn't lead to the normal increase in brain activity. This is because the face processing areas of the brain are not well connected to those parts of the brain that control attention i.e. the frontal and parietal regions.

_ We all know that it is harder to pick a face out of a busy crowd, for instance, but when we do find the right face and pay attention to it we are easily able to tune-out all the other distractions and focus on that one face. It seems that, for people with Asperger's Syndrome, paying attention to a face is much harder to do and doesn't have the same effect."

16 volunteers with Asperger's Syndrome and above-average IQs took part in the brain scanning experiment. With four images on the screen, two of houses and two of faces, the volunteers were asked to concentrate on either the faces or houses and had to decide whether or not they were identical.

fMRI brain scans showed that there was a marked difference in brain activity between people with Asperger's Syndrome and a control group. In the control group, paying attention to pictures of faces caused a significant increase in brain activity. For the people with Asperger Syndrome, however, paying attention to faces made no impact at all on the brain, explaining their lack of interest in faces. People with Asperger's Syndrome showed the same brain reaction to houses as controls.

This work was funded by UK funding body the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Source: University College London (UCL) -

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