New research disproves common neurological autism theory


A new study, published today in Neuron, counters traditional theories on autism. It previously was thought that people with autism have difficulties understanding the goals and intentions of others because of a fundamental neurological dysfunction in something called the “mirror neuron system.”

The mirror neuron function activates across multiple areas in the brain when a person wishes to move a leg or arm. This function also activates when a person observes another person’s action. This system also has interestingly been the targeted center of “figuring out” what is happening around you, and been linked to determining the motivations of others.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, New York University and the University of Pittsburgh conducted a program where fMRI brain scans were taken while neurotypical and autistic test subjects watched hand movements and made the movements themselves. The findings demonstrate that those subjects with autism tested typical mirror system responses.

The results argue against the "dysfunctional mirror system" theory of autism, the researchers wrote, suggesting that it would be more promising to focus on other directions in autism research.

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