Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Autism and the brain: PSTS and the altruism zone

Functional brain imaging continues to deliver some startling claims.

Follow Me Here...: 01/21/2007 - 01/27/2007

… Researchers at Duke University have shown with functional MRI that the degree of activation of the posterior superior temporal sulcus [PSTS], a brain region activated when people observe others' actions but not perform them themselves, correlated with personality ratings of subjects' degree of altruism…

The capacity to have an interior experience upon watching someone else's behavior similar to the experience of performing that behavior yourself may be a basis of the sense of inherent congruence between others' feelings and thoughts and our own, the ability to have a so-called 'theory of mind', which is an important developmental achievement for humans. As suggested in the article, this body of work may help explicate the neural basis for certain conditions, in which I am interested in my work as a clinical psychiatrist, in which the capacity for empathy or mutuality break down, such as antisocial personality disorder or autistic spectrum disorders.

… Two good starting point reviews of the nascent field of social cognitive neuroscience, which is built on these and similar observations and speculations, are these papers by Rebecca Saxe of MIT (Current Opinion in Neurobiology) and the Friths of London (Science). And, while I was browsing related materials, I came upon this paper by Chatterjee (Journal of Medical Ethics), which you might find intriguing if you are interested in this area at all. ...

FMH has some good links to explore. It’s worth remembering that sweeping claims in the neurosciences have a history of being wrong.

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