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The Brain and Emotional Language Study

Researcher 

Description 

The Brain and Emotional Language Study is seeking to understand more about how language processing interacts with a person’s emotional communication skills. 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how other people are feeling, and feelings can be conveyed through non-verbal cues (like faces) as well as through language. Understanding other’s emotions is critical for interacting with our parents, siblings, and peers, and also helps foster and nurture these relationships. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often struggle with social relationships, and while research suggests that this may be partially due to difficulties with processing emotions, there is evidence that understanding language is a relative strength in autism. 

The overall goal of this study is to determine a) whether individuals with autism are able to make emotional inferences in the language context, and b) to investigate whether these individuals use the neural systems associated with language and emotion when making these inferences as compared to typically achieving peers.  Specifically, we will examine whether this profile is associated with reduced neural activity in the emotion-related brain regions (e.g., the amygdala and ventral prefrontal cortex), compensatory neural activity in the language network (left inferior frontal gyrus and left superior temporal gyrus), and/or aberrant functional connectivity between these systems.  To do this, we will compare functional MRI data from older adolescents and adults with autism to their typically developing peers on an Emotional Inference Task (EIT). Emotionally valent (positive or negative) and neutral (physical state) short stories will be presented verbally in an event-related fMRI study, and subjects will be asked to make a congruency judgment pertaining to the inference to be drawn. 

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