Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show persistent deficits in social communication and interaction. Reduced attention to social stimuli, including the human face, is thought to at least partially explain these deficits. Males are at least four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than females, but the biological basis of this gender discrepancy is not understood. If gender differences in face selectivity and processing exist, this may at least partially explain the gender bias seen in ASD.
David Pitcher of the University of York in the United Kingdom proposes to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether there are differences in the sizes of face-selective brain regions between neurotypical females and males. Additional studies, using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), will be conducted to investigate how any gender differences may impact behavioral face discrimination abilities.
Pitcher’s laboratory will use fMRI to noninvasively measure the size of face-selective brain regions across a large, gender-matched participant group, and assess whether gender differences are apparent. The researchers will then use TMS to causally disrupt face-selective regions while participants perform face discrimination tasks. Using this approach, the researchers will examine whether disruptions to these regions produce greater behavioral impairments in female or male participants. They will then examine whether the size of face-selective regions, as defined by fMRI, correlates with the size of the behavioral impairments induced with TMS. If gender differences in face-selectivity can be identified in individuals without ASD, the same methods could be used to develop a greater understanding of potential gender differences in face processing in individuals with ASD.