Eyetracker

Neurobehavioral functioning in youth

Principal Investigator:

Christine Conelea, PhD (Department of Psychiatry)

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Collaborators:

Suma Jacob, MD, PhD (Department of Psychiatry)

Abstract:

Despite the recognition of high comorbidity rates and overlapping features among neurodevelopmental disorders, studies assessing neurocognitive functioning have typically only included youth within one diagnostic category (e.g., compare ASD vs. healthy controls). The current study will use a transdiagnostic approach to examine patterns of neurocognitive functioning in a sample of youth with a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders (ASD, OCD, ADHD, and tic disorders (TDs)). Identifying patterns of neurobehavioral functioning in a diagnostically heterogeneous sample has the potential to improve our ability to match youth to appropriate treatments and to inform development of new treatments.

Quantifying eye tracking and EEG metrics of social perception during infancy

Principal Investigator:

Charisse Pickron, PhD (Institute of Child Development)

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Collaborators:

Jed Elison, PhD (Institute of Child Development)

Abstract:

The healthy development of key neurocognitive functions, such as face recognition and social cognitive function, is essential for learning to navigate one’s environment. Individual differences in these functions predict important developmental outcomes including successful social communication skills, school readiness, and interpersonal relationships. Several recent investigations have focused on understanding how early perceptual experience influences the behavioral and neural specificity of face processing during the first year of life. Research in this area has revealed several perceptual biases arising within the first year of life, including the other-race effect. These findings indicate that infants’ ability to readily differentiate among face identities is narrowed to the race and gender groups that they have the most experience with.

This indicates that being able to attend to and possibly learn from faces is influenced by familiarity with facial features such as race and gender. Attentional biases for social information may be relevant to these changes in face processing capabilities. The ability to characterize the microarchitecture of looking patterns and neural activity responses during passive viewing of social and non-social stimuli has markedly advanced the study of infant cognition and social cognition.

To date, very few studies have recorded electrical brain activity while simultaneously recording looking patterns in developmental populations. Thus more research is needed to better characterize the relation between looking patterns and electrical responses measured from the brain. Together these methods will provide clearer characterization of changes in infants’ attentional and perceptual capabilities during the first years of life. Additionally, the current project will provide evidence for potential underlying neural and attentional mechanisms which drive changes in social information processing during the first year of life.

Rett Syndrome: health and behavioral analyses

Principal Investigator:

Frank Symons, PhD (Department of Educational Psychology)

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Collaborators:
Abstract:

Most widely available assessments of sensory processing and cognitive functioning rely on the participant’s ability to respond verbally or motorically to instructions or sensory stimuli. Individuals with Rett syndrome, as well as some other genetic syndromes, present with verbal and motoric deficits that make the administration of such assessments difficult or even impossible. Therefore, the development of novel or adapted methods for assessing cognitive functioning in this population is necessary. The primary aim of this protocol is to develop and test a modified Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) developmental test for populations with language and motor limitations. We will do so by implementing an adapted administration protocol and incorporating eye-tracking technology. The preservation of visual attention and eye gaze communication in individuals with Rett syndrome makes this population amenable to study using eye tracking paradigms. Integration of an eye tracker with a 128-channel EEG system, permits co-registration of eye position with the moment-by-moment transactions that take place in the brain, allowing for a passive assessment of cortical function.

Screening for profiles of risk associated with ASD and other emerging atypical phenotypes

Principal Investigator:

Jed Elison, PhD (Institute of Child Development)

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Collaborators:

Suma Jacob, MD, PhD (Department of Psychiatry), Amy Esler, PhD, LP (Department of Pediatrics), Jason Wolff, PhD (Department of Educational Psychology)

Abstract:

There is a great need for improved screening approaches and improved implementation of screening procedures to identify children who will need early intervention for ASD. New screening approaches are needed to capture the heterogeneity of the disorder(s), which includes identifying children who are likely to access services in the community even though they may not meet strict research criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis.

In the current application, we propose to test a new screening approach that we refer to as pheno-screening.  We ask parents to complete online versions of standardized questionnaires that are designed to capture individual differences in highly dimensional traits relevant to the early emergence of clinically impairing behaviors that constitute ASD. We use data driven approaches to derive clusters or latent classes of children that represent a continuum of risk. Next, based on a given cluster’s profile, we invite children into the laboratory for direct phenotypic assessment that also includes measurement of biomarkers hypothesized to help us parse the heterogeneity of behavioral profiles encapsulated by an ASD diagnosis.  Improved screening procedures promise to advance early identification, and improved characterization of biomarkers associated with risk promises to advance new interventions designed to target specific mechanisms associated with behavioral symptomatology.

The development of attentional orienting to semantic salience in infancy: Concurrent associations between visual orienting and white matter development

Principal Investigator:

Jed Elison, PhD (Institute of Child Development)

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Collaborators:

Robin Sifre, Graduate Student (Institute of Child Development)

Abstract:

While a large body of work has charted the emergence of selective attention, less is known about the role that orienting to semantic salience plays in selective attention. Specifically, to what extent can experience with a stimulus modify its semantic salience, and how does the developing brain integrate these modifications into attentional biases? We intend to assess the extent to which reward-modulated semantic salience captures attention in infancy, and how structural brain development supports these abilities. We will focus on 7 to 9 months for two reasons: First, this period marks an important transition toward more sophisticated selective attention; thus, there should be high variability in orienting to semantic salience during this transition. Structural variability in neural circuitry could function as one source of this variance. Second, there is growing evidence suggesting that the social deficits observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be traced back to early differences in attention orienting and its relation to white matter microstructure at this age. This project will provide the first normative developmental trajectory of 1) infants’ attentional orienting to semantic salience, and 2) the white matter fiber bundles supporting this orienting ability, as a key first step toward studying this construct in infants considered at high-risk for ASD.

Utilizing eye-tracking to study the normative trajectory of social information processing

Principal Investigator:

Suma Jacob, M.D., Ph.D. (Department of Psychiatry)

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Collaborators:

Sunday Francis, PhD (Department of Psychiatry), Amy Esler, PhD (Department of Pediatrics)

Abstract:

Social information processing includes many behaviors, deficits in some of these behaviors have been observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) individuals through behavioral and neuroimaging studies. These impairments emerge early in development and persist over time, and may in part be related to atypical eye movements during assessment of visual stimuli containing social information.

We propose to examine the normal distribution of social information processing and how these capacities differ in our existing cohort of ASD individuals. The developmental trajectories of social information processing change over time, and need to be thoroughly characterized across a broad age of NTs and ASD individuals. Our clinical research team is currently studying novel drug treatments that improve social functioning throughout development. However, treatment outcome measures that reliability document changes in social information processing are limited in ASD. Studies of novel pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions would benefit from a non-invasive, easily measured, and accessible outcome measure that would provide a measurement of treatment efficacy. By collecting eye tracking and physiological data in typically developing individuals as they perform electronic visual tasks we aim to map the trajectory of social information processing in NTs. Improved characterization of the distribution of social information processing capacities in a neuro-typical cohort will provide a unique platform with which to compare individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs).