Measuring the gaze between mom and her autistic baby
Mothers and children with autism spectrum disorder communicate through their gaze just as all parents do. However, a new tool measuring that gaze and its impact on an infant's neurologic development, reveals more.
Collaboration between Kanazawa and Osaka Universities in Japan has produced a magneto-encephalography (MEG) hyperscanning system to measure brain wave — mu suppression — during face-to-face, non-verbal interaction between moms and their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Three observations have so far been made:
• In children with serious autism spectrum disorder — babies gazing at mom show low brain activity
• When brain activity is low in an autism spectrum disorder child, mom's brain activity is also low.
• When mom makes any movement — a nod in response to her child perhaps — her brain activity increases.
This newly developed equipment, MEG, can detect electrical activities in the brain through a non-invasive manner. MEG uses super-conducting sensor technology, and was developed for research on children. A simultaneous use model — between two people — is currently only available only through Kanazawa University.
Little research has explored non-verbal parent to child communication, and that research has always focussed only on either the mother’s response or only a child’s response. But understanding inter-brain dynamics between human interactions helps identify what is involved in the brain dynamics underneath social interaction. Previous electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) — studies have been done. However, none measuring brain-to-brain interactions between moms and their babies.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a child-friendly device that provides high-resolution, spatiotemporal dynamics of neuromagnetic fields during various cognitive and behavioral activities.
Social mind interactions are reflected in the degree of mu signal suppression — or IMS — in the brain. The dynamics of mu rhythms during real communication between mothers and their children might serve as an index of soundness in brain-to-brain interactions.
Sometimes, words just complicate things.
Two recent studies have revealed atypical responses in mu rhythm between adults and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD appears in early childhood, causing delays in social interactions. The term “spectrum” is crucial as there are a wide range of symptoms. In this study, typically developed mothers and their young children with ASD (with various levels of social ability) were tested across a high range of mother-child interactions.
Mu rhythm is an EEG measurement of resting motor neurons. These rhythms are normally suppressed by physical activity or visual observation, a process called inner mu suppression or IMS.
IMS is used as a marker of mirror neurons firing in the brain when a person acts or when a person observes the same action reflected in another.
National Center for Biotechnology Information
The primary aim of this pilot study was to investigate whether IMS as a result of face-to-face and non-lverbal interaction, reflected sociality between moms and their children with ASD.
The second aim was to investigate whether the degree of IMS is similar between the pair — does a larger mu suppression in the mom correlate with a larger mu suppression in her child?
The third aim was to investigate to what degree IMS is related to the behavior between mother and child during face-to-face gazing.
When a parent and a child gaze at each other, enormous amounts of social information are exchanged in an unconscious manner.
Reading a face allows new emotions to be learned, which affects both recipients.
Bi-directional interactions are thought to be important in the development of a child's ability to learn cooperation.
Results reflected significant correlations between IMS in the right precentral area of the mothers' brains and the traits — or severity — of ASD in 13 mothers and 8 children (data from 5 children could not be obtained due to motion noise).
The mu wave is suppressed even when one observes another person performing a motor action or an abstract motion. It is a normal event.
Future studies with larger parent to child groups, and in comparison to typically developing children, are needed before generalizations can be made as to typical interactions between mothers and their children.
Research results was published online in Scientific Reports on Oct. 10, 2016.
Spontaneous face-to-face interactions between mothers and their children play crucial roles in the development of social minds; however, these inter-brain dynamics are still unclear. In this pilot study, we measured MEG mu suppression during face-to-face spontaneous non-linguistic interactions between mothers and their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using the MEG hyperscanning system (i.e., simultaneous recording). The results demonstrated significant correlations between the index of mu suppression (IMS) in the right precentral area and the traits (or severity) of ASD in 13 mothers and 8 children (MEG data from 5 of the children could not be obtained due to motion noise). In addition, higher IMS values (i.e., strong mu suppression) in mothers were associated with higher IMS values in their children. To evaluate the behavioral contingency between mothers and their children, we calculated cross correlations between the magnitude of the mother and child head-motion during MEG recordings. As a result, in mothers whose head motions tended to follow her child’s head motion, the magnitudes of mu suppression in the mother’s precentral area were large. Further studies with larger sample sizes, including typically developing children, are necessary to generalize this result to typical interactions between mothers and their children.
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