Social Neuroscience Lab

Purpose

Research in the lab is aimed at advancing three goals that are imperative for children with autism and their families. These goals are (1) to develop objective markers of risk to enable early diagnosis, (2) to chart development in children with autism to better understand the heterogeneity and pathogenesis of the condition, and (3) to use knowledge gained in research to develop practical tools for intervention.

In order to achieve these goals, our group has focused on research of highly-conserved and early-emerging mechanisms of social development. Much of our recent research has centered on measuring the way individuals with autism, from infancy to adulthood, pay attention to and interact with their surrounding environment: from attending to basic cues of biological motion, to looking at faces of other people, to observing complex social interactions.

From studies in the past and others that are ongoing, we are working to develop performance-based measures of social engagement in autism. These measures can function as diagnostic markers, predict outcome levels of social competence, and serve as endophenotypes capable of parsing the broader autism spectrum. Such measures are critical for advancing future treatments and for understanding the genetic, neural, and behavioral heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorders.

Beyond these concrete aims, the research in our lab offers insights into what a developing child with autism experiences when trying to navigate the social world by mapping what attracts the visual attention of children during naturalistic viewing of that world. The research is a first step towards studying how a child’s interaction with the world precipitates his or her understanding of that world.