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Social reward processing in autism

Trainee Achievements

Social reward processing in autism

Second year graduate student Alice Lin made significant research progress concerning social reward processing and its possible disruption in autistic individuals. Her study establishes social outcomes as rewarding in much the same way as other rewards and examines whether these outcomes are processed by the same neural circuitry responsible for processing other types of rewards, thus validating behavioral economic models of social utility and providing a framework for computational modeling of social cognition, which may be particularly useful in characterizing disorders such as autism. One theory about the development of autism is the disorder is characterized by an impairment in the social reward circuitry. As a result, social cues and outcomes are not as strong an incentive in shaping learned social cognition in autistic individuals as they are in the normal population. This latter possibility is currently being investigated as part of Lin’s PhD research.