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Autism and social interaction

Autism and social interaction

by Associate Professor Ulrich Kirk


Autism (also called autism spectrum disorder or ASD) is a congenital development disorder that causes problems especially in relation to social skills such as interaction and communication with other people. In addition, late language development is also seen, as well as sharpening or weakening of certain senses. Often it is especially the difficulty of social interaction that contributes to the problems experienced in people with autism. Therefore, it is important to know more about the brain mechanisms that underlie the difficulties, as this knowledge can eventually be used to develop better diagnosis and treatment options.


The goal of this project is thus to expand existing knowledge of how persons with ASD act in contexts where social signals requires interpretation into action and how such behavior potentially bifurcate relative to control subject without a neuropsychiatric disorder.

The project investigates

The project investigates brain processes in people with ASD while they are part of a situation that requires social decision making. Particularly for this study, we want to scan both the ASD participant and a healthy control who is part of a social relationship with each other at the same time. In this case, the social relationship will consist of a social investment game called the Trust Game where one participant (called the investor) receives money and can send any amount of the total amount to the other participant (called the Trustee). On the way to the other participant, the amount invested will be tripled and it will therefore be advantageous to send a lot of money to the other player if you trust that the other player will also send money back to the investor. In this way, using the game, you can study social skills such as trust and perception of what is fair in a social interaction. The game has been tested in many contexts and can thus be used to investigate whether patients afflicted with ASD performs the task differently as well as whether or not brain activity differs from control subjects during performance of the task.

Expected results

Data from the study will be used to investigate whether there is a correlation between brain activity in a particular part of the brain during this task and the severity of ASD. In addition, the data will be used to investigate whether there are correlations between the participants' age and the pattern of brain activity.

Project manager

Ulrich Kirk, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark.

Project members

Lone Hørlyck, postdoc, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark.

Project collaborators

Niels Bilenberg, Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychiatry in Region Syddanmark;
Mette Elmose Andersen, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark;
Tom Fletcher, Associate Professor, Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, University of Utah.

Last Updated 19.10.2023