October 29, 2020

Mimicry is associated with procedural learning, not social bonding, neural systems in autism

Mimicry facilitates social bonding throughout the lifespan. Mimicry impairments in autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are widely reported, including differentiation of the brain networks associated with its social bonding and learning functions. This study examined associations between volumes of brain regions associated with social bonding versus procedural skill learning, and mimicry of gestures during a naturalistic interaction in ASC and neurotypical (NT) children. Consistent with predictions, results revealed reduced mimicry in ASC relative to the NT children. Mimicry frequency was negatively associated with autism symptom severity. Mimicry was predicted predominantly by the volume of procedural skill learning regions in ASC, and by bonding regions in NT. Further, bonding regions contributed significantly less to mimicry in ASC than in NT, while the contribution of learning regions was not different across groups. These findings suggest that associating mimicry with skill learning, rather than social bonding, may partially explain observed communication difficulties in ASC.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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