Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
Op basis van de stem van een spreker kun je je een idee vormen over bijvoorbeeld diens sociale achtergrond en emotionele toestand. Mensen met een autistische stoornis lijken hier problemen mee te hebben. Dit onderzoek gaat na hoe deze sociale informatie in het brein verwerkt wordt.
Verbal communication involves the integration of several sourcesof stored linguistic knowledge, such as form, grammar, and meaning ofwords and sentences. In addition, a requirement for successful verbalcommunication is the processing of contextual cues, which are relatedto social interaction, such as facial expressions and the intonationpattern of the voice. There is accumulating data on the neuralcorrelates of the processing of visual-social and emotional cues innormal individuals and individuals with autism. Data are lackinghowever as to the neural correlates of the processing of contextualcues from spoken language, such as those related to gender and age,and to the intonation pattern of the human voice. The aim of theproposed project is to investigate the neural basis of theseso-called social cognitive aspects of verbal communication. In doingso, I will use both fMRI and EEG measurements and exploit thecontrast between normally developing individuals and high functioningindividuals with autism. The latter population has been shown to beparticularly and severely impaired in the processing of contextualinformation relevant for communication purposes. I will test thehypotheses that 1) the left inferior prefrontal cortex (LIPC) iscrucially involved in the social cognition of language in normalindividuals, and 2) abnormal brain activation in the LIPC is observedin autism. This project will lead to a better understanding of theneural basis of social cognition of verbal communication in normallydeveloping individuals, and provide insight into the underlyingabnormal neural architecture in autism. Ultimately, in combinationwith other strategies as molecular-genetic studies, this willcontribute to clarify the physiology and pathophysiology of thesocial cognition of language.