Better fear conditioning is associated with reduced symptom severity in autism spectrum disorders

Authors

  • Mikle South,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
    2. Neuroscience Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
    • Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience, Brigham Young University, 245 TLRB, 1190 North 900 East, Provo, UT 84602
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  • Michael J. Larson,

    1. Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
    2. Neuroscience Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
    3. Child Study Center Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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  • Sarah E. White,

    1. Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
    2. Neuroscience Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
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  • Julianne Dana,

    1. Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
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  • Michael J. Crowley

    1. Child Study Center Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
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Abstract

Evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging studies suggest that atypical amygdala function plays a critical role in the development of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The handful of psychophysiological studies examining amygdala function in ASD using classical fear conditioning paradigms have yielded discordant results. We recorded skin conductance response (SCR) during a simple discrimination conditioning task in 30 children and adolescents (ages 8–18) diagnosed with high-functioning ASD and 30 age- and IQ-matched, typically developing controls. SCR response in the ASD group was uniquely and positively associated with social anxiety; and negatively correlated with autism symptom severity, in particular with social functioning. Fear conditioning studies have tremendous potential to aid understanding regarding the amygdale's role in the varied symptom profile of ASD. Our data demonstrate that such studies require careful attention to task-specific factors, including task complexity; and also to contributions of dimensional, within-group factors that contribute to ASD heterogeneity. Autism Res2011,4:412–421. © 2011 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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