Neural basis of socio-pragmatic understanding in young adults on the autism spectrum

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa campus, lecture hall 10

Topic of the dissertation

Neural basis of socio-pragmatic understanding in young adults on the autism spectrum

Doctoral candidate

MA, MSc. Aija-Riitta Kotila

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Logopedics

Subject of study

Logopedics

Opponent

Professor Katiuscia Sacco, University of Turin

Custos

Docent Soile Loukusa, University of Oulu

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Neural basis of understanding of pragmatic communication in young adults on the autism spectrum

The doctoral thesis provided new information on the brain function of young autistic adults, and how they process pragmatic communication situations. Based on the results, it appears that interaction between the neural networks that participate in pragmatic communication processing is different in autistic persons. The thesis also suggests that the challenges of autistic persons are especially related to situations that require rapid processing of parallel communication events.

Everyday social communication situations involve a variety of verbal and non-verbal cues, the consideration of which is essential for accurate interpretation of messages and for understanding other people’s intentions. In pragmatic communication, contextual factors contribute to the meaning. Challenges in understanding pragmatic communication are common in autistic persons. Therefore, this thesis studied the neural basis of understanding of pragmatic communication in young autistic adults and their controls. Brain events were examined while the participants were at rest, and when they were watching video clips that contained pragmatic communication situations. The brain data were acquired using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The study showed temporally altered interaction between some neural networks in autistic persons. The temporally altered function was related to the networks that are involved in pragmatic communication processing. When the participants of the study watched videos containing non-verbal pragmatic communication situations, the brain activity of the control participants appeared quite similar to each other, while there was more variation in the brain activity in the autistic group. The difference in brain responses was particularly visible in the area that identifies salient events. The study examined participants’ brain activity also when they watched natural-like communication situations from video clips. When the areas of the brain that identify salient events were taken for closer examination, it was found that brain activity was similar in both of the groups during most of the communication scenes. However, brain activity in the autistic group differed from the control group during situations including parallel communication events.
Last updated: 20.5.2022