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Do you see what I see?

Joint attention holds clues for autism disorders

By Lisa Newbern

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Following another's gaze or looking in the direction someone else is pointing are examples of receptive joint attention, a key nonverbal communication skill.

Researchers at Yerkes National Primate Research Center found that these behaviors have a genetic basis, which could have important implications for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Determining that the ability to pick up on these communicative cues may be an inborn trait led the researchers to the vasopressin receptor gene, known for its role in social bonding.

Yerkes researchers Larry Young and Bill Hopkins, coauthors of the study in Scientific Reports, say that receptive joint attention is important for developing complex cognitive processes, including language and theory of mind. Poor joint attention abilities may be a core feature in children with or at risk of ASD.

"Chimpanzees are an excellent animal model for exploring the role of the vasopressin receptor on social behaviors because of their similarities to humans," says Young, director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience at Emory, Timmie Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and a newly elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

More Informaiton

"Chimpanzee research provides insight into autism spectrum disorders" (2/6/2014)

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