The brain’s system for sensing pleasure and reward shows unusual activation patterns in people with autism, according to an analysis of 13 imaging studies. A second new study points to an altered structure of reward circuits in autism.
The results support the social motivation hypothesis, which holds that people with autism find social interaction less rewarding than other people do. A poorly functioning reward system may leave infants and young children unmotivated to engage with others. As a result, they may get few chances to practice and develop their social skills.
The problem is not limited to social motivation, however. The results of the meta-analysis show that the autism brain also responds uniquely to nonsocial rewards, such as such as winning money or a game.
In the meta-analysis, researchers used cutting-edge software that enabled them to combine raw data from multiple imaging studies.
The study supports the idea that people with autism may have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors because they are disproportionately rewarding, says Benjamin Yerys, a child psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the imaging study and also worked on the meta-analysis. Over time, he says, these interests may crowd out more typically rewarding things such as social interaction.
Read full, original post: Reward-system differences may underlie multiple autism features