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Published October 2015 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

A specific hypoactivation of right temporo-parietal junction/posterior superior temporal sulcus in response to socially awkward situations in autism


People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have difficulty comprehending social situations in the complex, dynamic contexts encountered in the real world. To study the social brain under conditions which approximate naturalistic situations, we measured brain activity with fMRI while participants watched a full-length episode of the sitcom The Office. Having quantified the degree of social awkwardness at each moment of the episode, as judged by an independent sample of controls, we found that both individuals with ASD and control participants showed reliable activation of several brain regions commonly associated with social perception and cognition (e.g., those comprising the "mentalizing network") during the more awkward moments. However, individuals with ASD showed less activity than controls in a region near right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ) extending into the posterior end of the right superior temporal sulcus (RSTS). Further analyses suggested that, despite the free-form nature of the experimental design, this group difference was specific to this RTPJ/RSTS area of the mentalizing network; other regions of interest showed similar activity across groups with respect to both location and magnitude. These findings add support to a body of evidence suggesting that RTPJ/RSTS plays a special role in social processes across modalities and may function atypically in individuals with ASD navigating the social world.

Additional Information

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press. Received June 23, 2014. Revision received February 10, 2015. Accepted February 13, 2015. First published online: February 19, 2015. This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health (R00-MH094409 to D.P.K.) and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (previously NARSAD) Young Investigator Award (to D.P.K.).

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August 20, 2023
October 20, 2023