EEG frequency tagging evidence of intact social interaction recognition in adults with autism

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To explain the social difficulties in autism, many studies have been conducted on social stimuli processing. However, this research has mostly used basic social stimuli (e.g., eyes, faces, hands, single agent), not resembling the complexity of what we encounter in our daily social lives and what people with autism experience difficulties with. Third-party social interactions are complex stimuli that we come across often and are also highly relevant for social functioning. Interestingly, the existing behavioral studies point to altered social interaction processing in autism. However, it is not clear whether this is due to altered recognition or altered interpretation of social interactions. Here, we specifically investigated the recognition of social interaction in adults with and without autism. More precisely, we measured neural responses to social scenes depicting either social interaction or not with an electroencephalogram frequency tagging task and compared these responses between adults with and without autism (N = 61). The results revealed an enhanced response to social scenes with interaction, replicating previous findings in a neurotypical sample. Crucially, this effect was found in both groups, with no difference between them. This suggests that social interaction recognition is not atypical in adults with autism. Taken together with the previous behavioral evidence, our study thus suggests that individuals with autism are able to recognize social interactions, but that they might not extract the same information from those interactions or that they might use the extracted information differently.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism Research
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1111-1123
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 06.2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank all participants for their contribution as well as Amber Konings, Delphine Libeer, and Joyce Scheirlinckx for their assistance with data collection and recruitment. DO was supported by the Special Research Fund of Ghent University (BOF18/DOC/348). EC was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Research Foundation Flanders (12U0322N). MB was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany's Excellence Strategy—EXC 2002/1 “Science of Intelligence”—project number 390523135, and supported by an Einstein Strategic Professorship (Einstein Foundation Berlin). The funding bodies had no role in the design of the study, collection, analysis, interpretation of data, or writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.

    Research areas

  • autism spectrum disorder, electroencephalography, frequency tagging, social cognition, social interaction recognition
  • Psychology