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Lost in Thought: Autistic Brains Generate Information at Rest

🕑 2 minutes read
Posted February 4, 2014

a girl with her chin resting on her palms“What is going on in my child’s brain?” Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) frequently find themselves ruminating on this question. Now, researchers from Case Western Reserve University and University of Toronto have an answer: creating information. The researchers measured brain activity and found that children with autism generate more information than their neurotypical peers. This discovery may explain why children with autism are disinterested in external stimuli.

The researchers based this study upon their previous finding that children with ASD have a different type of brain connections. Their goal was to determine how the difference in brain connectivity functionally affects children with autism. They measured children’s brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG), which records the brain’s electrical impulses. With this information, they were able to determine how various brain regions interact and how stimuli affect a child’s introspection level during a resting state.

They found that the brains of autistic children generate more information while at rest than those of non-autistic people. There was an average increase in brain activity of 42% in children with autism. The result may explain why children with ASD do not typically show an interest in the surrounding world.

Furthermore, this study supports the “Intense World Theory” of autism—that people with ASD have hyper-functioning neurons, which put the brain in a state of hyper-arousal. This research is also a first step in understanding how information generation in the brain influences cognitive and psychological traits.

“Our results suggest that autistic children are not interested in social interactions because their brains generate more information at rest, which we interpret as more introspection in line with early descriptions of the disorder,” commented Fernández Galán, PhD, senior study author, and associate professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

This study is published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroinformatics.

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