Frontal cortex functioning in the infant broader autism phenotype.
Holmboe K., Elsabbagh M., Volein A., Tucker LA., Baron-Cohen S., Bolton P., Charman T., Johnson MH.
Atypical attention has been proposed as a marker of the broader autism phenotype. In the present study we investigated this and the related process of inhibitory control at the youngest possible age through the study of infant siblings of children with an autism spectrum disorder (Sibs-ASD). Both attention and inhibition have been related to the frontal cortex of the brain. Nine- to ten-month-old Sibs-ASD and low-risk control infants completed the Freeze-Frame task, in which infants are encouraged to inhibit looks to peripherally presented distractors whilst looking at a central animation. The attractiveness of the central stimulus is varied in order to investigate the selectivity of infants' responses. In line with previous studies, it was found that a subset of Sibs-ASD infants had difficulty disengaging attention from a central stimulus in order to orient to a peripheral stimulus. The Sibs-ASD group also showed less Selective Inhibition than controls. However, Sibs-ASD infants did demonstrate Selective Inhibitory Learning. These results provide preliminary evidence for atypical frontal cortex functioning in the infant broader autism phenotype.