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Clinical Science Brown Bag Series

Tuesday, January 17, 2017,
  • Location: Wilson Hall
  • Room: 316

Kathryn Unruh

Vanderbilt Brain Institute (Bodfish Lab)

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine


Wilson Hall Room 3016

“Measuring Nonsocial Reward in Autism Spectrum Disorders”

Our experiences with the world play a critical role in neural and behavioral development. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) spend a disproportionate amount of time seeking out, attending to, and engaging with aspects of their environment that are largely nonsocial in nature. The current models of ASD focus primarily on the relative deficits in social behavior / motivation; however, there is an emerging literature to suggest enhanced response to nonsocial reward. In line with previous research from the Bodfish lab, my dissertation capitalizes on a specific type of nonsocial reward in ASD: circumscribed / restricted interests. Specifically, I hypothesize that enhanced nonsocial motivation early in life could bias experience and therefore brain development, contributing to a dynamic pattern of motivation that leads to increased nonsocial behavior and decreased social behavior. To this end, I have modified / developed novel tasks to compare social to nonsocial information processing using gaze dynamics, pupillary response, and neural response (ERP). Further, I will examine the role of age and diagnostic status using cross-sectional sampling in both ASD and typically developing comparison groups. This talk will discuss findings to date in my dissertation studies.