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The Typical and Atypical Development of the Social Brain During Infancy

Document type: Projects: In progress/completed
Document language: English
Uploaded By: Allan Colver (allancolver)
Date Uploaded: 2012/01/13 13:22:50.373 GMT+1
URL to a webpage or document based online:

Basic Information

Authors: Professor M H Johnson, Birkbeck College
Published on Date: 2008
Funding source project: Medical Research Council (MRC)

This proposal addresses the developmental origins of the human 'social brain' network. We will study brain functions and behaviour in typically developing human infants and toddlers, and those at elevated risk for a later diagnosis of autism (infants with an older sibling already diagnosed: ASD-sibs), to investigate three hypotheses: (1) infants are biased to attend to social stimuli, and these biases contribute to the postnatal emergence of the cortical social brain network; (2) the specificity and localisation of this network emerges postnatally through an interactive specialisation process; and (3) in autism there is a failure of one or more of these biases, or attention mechanisms, which subsequently disrupts the typical emergence of social cognitive functions. In section A, we will conduct a multi-method longitudinal study testing infants and ASD-sibs at 6 and 12 months. Assessment of ASD symptoms in the at-risk group will be conducted at 2 and 3 years old. The low-risk controls will be assessed in other measures of attention and social cognition at these ages. The results of this study will (a) test the above hypotheses, (b) assess whether the 'broader autism phenotype' exists in infancy, and (c) reveal the brain function and behavioural measures in infancy that best predict a later diagnosis of autism. In section B we will further test hypotheses (1) and (2) in a series of studies with typical low-risk infants. Specifically, we will trace the neurodevelopment of (a) orienting to faces, (b) the importance of direct (mutual) gaze, (c) the functions of the superior temporal sulcus in relation to dynamic social stimuli, (d) the interaction between different streams of face processing, and (e) the temporal dynamics of live social interaction. The results of the basic research in section B will underpin future studies of infants at-risk for ASD and related disorders.

Riche Classification

Demography: All , Infant (first year of life / baby not walking): , Young (pre-school ) child (including those attending Kindergarten / playgroup / child care) ,
Child Related Topics: Health care involving children ,
Health issues, determinants and measures: Social determinants , Mental functions , Emotional and personal aspects , Mental disorders and problems , Family health and relations ,
Languages and Geographical Perspective: English ,
Study type / scale / state of progress / setting: Case/control study , Longitudinal study - cohort, trend, panel , Health care facility , Ongoing ,