Interpersonal brain synchronization has repeatedly been demonstrated during joint social tasks for healthy adults and recently also for parent-child dyads (Social Interaction). Pioneering studies have demonstrated diminished brain-to-brain synchrony in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during such tasks (Physiology & Behavior). To date, no study that we know of has investigated this in children with ASD and has examined whether the familiarity of the interaction partner modulates interpersonal brain synchronization.
Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) hyper scanning, the researchers (1) assessed brain-to-brain synchrony in prefrontal brain regions during a cooperative and a competitive computer task in 43 typically developing (TD) children and 15 children with ASD (8-18 years, all-male) while playing with one of their parents. Adult strangers performed identical tasks with each child. Participants were instructed to either respond jointly via button press in response to a target (cooperation) or to respond faster than the other player (competition). Within each dyad, wavelet coherence was calculated for oxy-hemoglobin brain signals of corresponding channels as a measure of brain-to-brain synchrony.
On the behavioral level, preliminary results showed that the dyad's cooperative performance was neither influenced by the interaction partner nor by the group. However, during the competition, the child won more often against the parent than against the stranger, and children with ASD won more often against parent/stranger than TD children. On the neural level, preliminary results revealed a significant interaction of partner and group for coherence in two channels located in Brodmann areas 8 and 9: coherence in the ASD group was significantly smaller when playing with the parent compared to a stranger. No significant effect of the partner was observed in the TD group.
Data collection in both samples is ongoing. Preliminary results suggest differential coherence in ASD with respect to the interaction partner's familiarity. In a larger sample, it remains to be seen, whether fNIRS hyper scanning represents a valuable tool for investigating brain-to-brain synchrony during social tasks as a proxy for typical and atypical social interaction.
(1) Vanessa Reindl, Jana Kruppa, Julia Prinz, Eileen Weiß, Christian Gerloff, Wolfgang Scharke, Beate Herpertz-Dahlmann, Kerstin Konrad, Martin Schulte-Rüther. (2019). FNIRS brain-to-brain synchrony during social cooperation in children with Autism
(2) Reindl, V., et al. (2018), 'Brain-to-brain synchrony in parent-child dyads and the relationship with emotion regulation revealed by fNIRS-based hyperscanning', Neuroimage, vol. 178, pp. 493 - 502
(3) Tanabe, H. C., et al. (2012), 'Hard to “tune in”: neural mechanisms of live face-to-face interaction with high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder', Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 6, pp. 268