Abstract: Does the Autistic Brain Lack Core Modules?

GERNSBACHER, M. A., & FRYMIARE, J. (2005). Does the autistic brain lack core modules? Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders, 9, 3-16.
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Researchers have hypothesized that autistics are missing core modules of the brain, critical neural tissue necessary for accomplishing various processes. In this article, we critically review the evidence supporting two such hypothesized deficits. We ask whether autistic brains lack a module for understanding the behavior of others (i.e., theory of mind) and whether they lack a module for processing faces. We illustrate that successful performance on theory of mind tasks depends on linguistic ability; therefore, it is not surprising that autistics are more likely to fail theory of mind tasks because a qualitative impairment in communication is one of the primary diagnostic criteria for autism. Similarly, we illustrate that autistics are less likely to fixate the eye region of facial photographs and that the amount of time spent fixating the eye region correlates with activation in the face processing “module”; therefore, it is not surprising that autistics are less likely to activate the putative face processing area. These illustrations cast doubt on the arguments that the autistic brain is missing the core modules responsible for understanding theory of mind and for processing faces.