Intact emotion facilitation for nonsocial stimuli in autism: Is amygdala impairment in autism specific for social information?

Mikle South, Sally J Ozonoff, Yana Suchy, Raymond P. Kesner, William M. McMahon, Janet E. Lainhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Atypical amygdala development may play a key role in the emergence of social disability and other symptoms of autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 2000; Schultz, 2005). The mechanisms by which this may occur have received little attention, however, and most support from behavioral and imaging studies has been concerned with socially relevant stimuli such as faces. Given the complexity of amygdala function and its known role in many other emotional tasks, we examined whether individuals with autism would demonstrate impaired performance on several tasks that have been shown to require activation of the amygdala but that do not have any explicit social meaning. Relative to a typical comparison group matched for age and IQ, our sample of 37 adolescents and adults with autism (mean age = 19.7 years) demonstrated equivalent facilitation for perception and learning of emotionally relevant stimuli. On each of four tasks, there were significant main effects of emotion condition on performance for both groups. Future research regarding atypical amygdala function and emotion processing in autism should consider whether the response to nonsocial emotion factors (including negative valence or high arousal) may be intact, despite difficulties in responding to socially relevant stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-54
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Autistic disorder
  • Emotion
  • Learning
  • Limbic system
  • Motivation
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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