The new study led by Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, researcher at the UCLA Tennenbaum Centre for the Biology of Creativity will be using music to explore the autistic brain's emotion processing.
"Music has long been known to touch autistic children," said Molnar-Szakacs.
"Studies from the early days of autism research have already shown us that music provokes engagement and interest in kids with ASD. More recently, such things as musical memory and pitch abilities in children with ASD have been found to be as good as or better than in typically developing children," Molnar-Szakacs added.
Previous studies have also shown that since children with ASD are naturally interested in music, they respond well to music-based therapy.
The present study would be exploring whether children with ASD process musical emotions and social emotions.
For the study involving around 15 children with ASD, ranging in age from 10 to 13, Molnar-Szakacs would be using "emotional music" to examine the brain regions involved in emotion processing.
"Our hypothesis is that if we are able to engage the brain region involved in emotion processing using emotional music, this will open the doorway for teaching children with ASD to better recognize emotions in social stimuli, such as facial expressions," said Molnar-Szakacs.
The team would later be using neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to look at and compare brain activity in ASD children with brain activity in typically developing kids while both groups are engaged in identifying emotions from faces and musical.
"The study should help us to better understand how the brain processes emotion in children with autism; that, in turn, will help us develop more optimal interventions," Molnar-Szakacs said.
"Importantly, this study will also help us promote the use of music as a powerful tool for studying brain functions, from cognition to creativity," Molnar-Szakacs added.