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Poster B36

Autism and Social Affiliation Choices: Structural Neuroimaging Insights into the role of Similarity Judgments

Poster Session B - Sunday, April 14, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Yu Hao1 (, Sarah Banker1, Matthew Schafer1,2, Arabella Peters1, Abigael Thinakaran1, Jadyn Trayvick1, Sarah Barkley1, Xiaosi Gu1, Jennifer Foss-Feig1, Daniela Schiller1; 1Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 2Columbia University

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by social interaction difficulties and limited connectivity. This study explored social affiliation in ASD, using a 'choose-your-own-adventure' game during neuroimaging sessions with 70 high-functioning ASD adults and 78 typically developing (TD) peers. The game involved decisions indicating social affiliation, like sharing information. We examined the correlation between participants' subjectively perceived similarity with game characters and their affiliation choices, finding a significant difference in ASD versus TD groups (p = 0.018). In ASD individuals, perceived similarity is closely linked to social affiliation, a pattern not observed in the TD group. This association explains about 20% of the variance in affiliation choices in ASD and is consistent across demographics. Online studies using the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire replicated this result (p = 0.020), suggesting individuals with autism phenotype prefer interactions with those they perceive as similar, likely due to a need for predictability. Structural neuroimaging analysis reveals significant effects in the mentalizing network, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and right superior temporal sulcus (STS), indicating distinct social processing strategies in ASD. In ASD, a larger ACC volume is associated with less perceived similarity (significant interaction of group and ACC on similarity, p = 0.01). STS volume shows a similar interaction pattern (interaction p = 0.032). Since ACC and STS are associated with prediction error signals in social learning and perspective-taking, these findings highlight unique cognitive processes in ASD for similarity judgments in social contexts, warranting further investigation.

Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Person perception


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