If you see someone disgusted by some food, you often feel disgusted yourself, and next time you see this food you won't eat it. Thus,
by understanding the other's emotional reaction to a stimulus in the environment you are able to learn about this stimulus.
Using fMRI, we scanned the brain of people while they were perceiving someone disgusted and while they were experiencing disgust
themselves. The same brain region in the anterior Insula was activated in both conditions, suggesting that our brain "simulates" an emotion
to understand it (pdf).
What would happen if you do not understand the disgust of the other person ? Then next time you'll see this food you will eat it and may get sick...this is what might happen to people with (ASD): they do not understand other's emotional behaviour and thus can not adapt their behaviour to it.
Facial emotional expression are crucial to social communication. Together with gaze direction they can inform you if someone is angry at you
or at someone else, or if he's happy, or if something in the environment is scary and you should therefore pay attention to it quickly.
We have scanned people's brain while they watched emotional facial expressions with various gaze directions. A number of brain regions are
activated and models of effective connectivity enabled us to show that they communicate with each other
Do people with (ASD) activate the same brain areas as typical people when they perceive an emotional expression ? And is the connectivity between brain regions identical in ASD ?
Looking at someone's facial emotional expression is not the only way to understand his emotional state. Very often, noticing that someone
taps his foot rapidly on the floor, or jumps and dances in the street is enough to understand that he's angry or happy. Thus body movements,
in relation to the context, are also important to perceive and understand adequatly other's behaviour and mental state. We have scanned
people's brain while they were watching video clips depicting social interactions between people. Results show that the 'emotional brain'
is activated even without information about the facial emotional expression and that specific areas are recruited when there is an emotional
interaction between two people (see below an example of the video stimuli we use).
This study is now replicated in adults with Asperger syndrom and results will be available soon.
Laboratorio de Neurociencia Integrativa