Scientists have opened a new window into understanding social difficulties of individuals with autism after being able to visualise differences in brain activity between those with and without the condition.
Experts at the University of Cambridge discovered that the brains of individuals with autism, considered a condition of extreme egocentrism, are less active when engaged in self-reflective thought.
Michael Lombardo, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues from the Autism Research Centre at the university, used functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) imaging and concentrated particularly in part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), known to be active when people think about themselves.
Boffins found that the particular area of the brain was more active when typical volunteers were asked, quizzed about themselves, compared to when they were thinking about others.
Lombardo said: "This new study shows that within the autistic brain, regions that typically prefer self-relevant information make no distinction between thinking about the self or another person. This is strong evidence that in the autistic brain, processing information about the self is atypical."
Lombardo added: "Navigating social interactions with others requires keeping track of the relationship between oneself and others. In some social situations it is important to notice that 'I am similar to you', while in other situations it might be important to notice that 'I am different to you'. The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child's social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them."
The findings were published in the journal Brain.