Mum’s Gaze Triggers Brain Waves In Autistic Kids

A pilot study has linked the degree of autism to a specific pattern of brain activity observed when autistic children look at their mothers.

AsianScientist (Nov. 22, 2016) – Looking at mum can trigger unique patterns of brain activity in autistic children, according to a pilot study published in Scientific Reports.

When a parent and a child gaze each other, enormous amounts of social information are exchanged in an unconscious manner. Such bidirectional interactions are thought to play important roles in the development of sociality in children, however, specific patterns of inter-brain activity triggered by these interactions are not well understood.

Using a special child-sized version of a magnetoencephalograph (MEG), researchers from Kanazawa University and Osaka University investigated the behavior of mu waves in the brains of autistic children when looking at their mothers. Mu waves are synchronized patterns of electrical activity in the part of the brain that controls motor movement that are suppressed when a person makes a conscious movement.

MEGs allow researchers to non-invasive study brain activity with high temporal and spatial resolution. Using the MEG on 14 mother-child pairs, the researchers found that gaze-triggered mu wave suppression was lower when children had serious autism. In contrast, high mu suppression was observed in the mothers when they made movements such as nodding in response to their children. When mu suppression in the child’s brain was low, it was also low in the child’s mother.

The researchers caution that larger studies need to be performed on a neurotypical population before their results can be generalized. Nonetheless, they anticipate that such simultaneous measurements of both mother and child will lead to a better understanding of how children develop social behaviors.


The article can be found at: Hasegawa et al. (2016) Mu Rhythm Suppression Reflects Mother-Child Face-to-Face Interactions: A Pilot Study With Simultaneous MEG Recording.

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Source: Kanazawa University; Photo: Shutterstock.
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