Daydream Brain Activity: Autism Clue?

Some Brain Regions in People With Autism Are Inactive During Rest or Daydreaming

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 09, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

May 8, 2006 -- People with autismautism may not daydream like most people do.

A new study suggests that the brain activity found in most people while at rest or "daydreaming" is absent in people with autism.

Researchers say the brain regions normally active while at rest or daydreaming are important for processing emotional and social issues. The lack of this activity in the brains of people with autism may help explain some of the antisocial behavior and emotional problems found in people with the disorder.

Measuring Brain Activity

In the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to compare brain activity while at rest in a group of 15 people with autism spectrum disorders (including autism and related conditions such as Asperger's syndrome) and 14 people without autism or related disorders.

Researchers say activity in certain areas of the brain is suppressed while performing mentally demanding tasks, like solving a puzzle. But when a person is at rest or performing nonstimulating tasks, these areas become very active, triggering daydreams and other introspective thoughts.P>

The scans showed that this type of daydreaming brain activity found in nonaustistic participants was missing in those with autism.

Researchers say these self-directed thoughts are important for processing emotional and social issues. In fact, they found that the more socially impaired the autistic individuals were, the less of this brain activity they had.

The researchers say the results of the study suggest that although some of the emotional and social symptoms found in people with autism seem to be associated with inability of this network to function properly, they cannot say that autism is caused by a neurological abnormality or vice versa.

Show Sources

SOURCE: Kennedy, D. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online early edition, May 8-12, 2006.
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