DataSheet_1_Atypical Reward-Driven Modulation of Mimicry-Related Neural Activity in Autism.docx
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in social functioning and difficulties in forming social bonds. According to the social motivation theory of ASD, people with ASD fail to attend social stimuli because they do not experience them as rewarding, resulting in deficits in social cognition. In neurotypical (NT) individuals, more rewarding faces have been shown to elicit greater spontaneous facial mimicry. This association between reward and mimicry is reduced in people with high autistic traits, suggesting that altered reward processing might explain the deficits in spontaneous facial mimicry observed in individuals with ASD. In a previous study, we observed that learned reward value of a face modulates mimicry-related neural response to it and that this modulation is reduced in people with high autistic traits. Using an identical evaluative conditioning paradigm where neutral faces were conditioned with high and low rewards, we tested the modulating effect of reward value on mimicry-related brain activity in a group of adults with and without ASD. We focused on the activity in a cluster within the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) identified through an independent meta-analysis of 139 neuroimaging studies of mimicry, in response to passively viewing videos of the conditioned faces. The blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response contrast of high- vs. low-reward faces was reduced in participants with ASD compared to NT controls. The extent of reward-driven modulation was negatively correlated with autistic traits across the whole sample. Our results indicate that the mimicry-related brain response is less modulated by learned reward value in individuals with ASD when compared to NT controls. In previous studies, we found in a similar sample that being mimicked by faces was associated with less reward-related brain response in individuals ASD compared to an NT sample, suggesting that the link between reward and mimicry is affected in both directions in ASD. Together, this reduced bidirectional link between reward and mimicry can point to a potential mechanism underlying some of the social cognitive features of ASD.