Motor resonance in adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Motor resonance is motor activation that occurs in the body when one observes or thinks about movement. Motor resonance is thought to assist in automatic imitation, the development of language (i.e., watching others speak helps a person learn to move their mouth to form the words), the development of empathy (i.e., watching others get hurt makes a person automatically flinch), and the development of motor ability (i.e., watching someone ride a bike should help a person ride it later), all of which have been reported to be impaired in persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Thus, the phenomenon of motor resonance may relate in important ways to the social, language, affective, and motor atypicalities commonly observed in persons with ASD. The present study used social stimuli (e.g., videos of hand movements), nonsocial stimuli (e.g., videos of a tire spinning), and language stimuli (e.g., sentences about movement) to examine the presence of motor resonance in individuals with ASD. Tweny-six individuals with ASD and 26 age-and-IQ-matched individuals with typical development (between the ages of 16 and 30) completed a motor resonance computer game in which each video or sentence portrayed a clockwise or counter-clockwise movement. Participants were instructed to respond to the stimuli by rotating a joystick either clockwise or counter-clockwise in response to a colored square presented on the screen. Because motor resonance facilitates responses in the same direction as the observed movement (congruent condition) and inhibits responses in the opposite direction of the observed movement (incongruent condition), quicker congruent responses compared to incongruent responses indicate the presence of motor resonance. The results indicated that individuals with ASD demonstrated a similar pattern of motor resonance compared to individuals with typical development. However, the degree of motor resonance was negatively correlated with current social symptom severity of the ASD group, suggesting that those with more severe social ASD symptoms demonstrated less motor resonance. Contrary to hypotheses, motor resonance was not related to empathy in either group. However, postural sway in persons with ASD was related to both empathy and autism symptom severity.