Predispositions for newly hatched/born vertebrates, including humans, to attend to and preferentially learn about conspecifics, are pervasive and can be of vital biological importance. Such predispositions are, however, very poorly understood. Studying them, and their physiological, genetic, molecular and neural bases, is crucial for an understanding of typical and atypical human development. Indeed, some have suggested that lack of such predispositions may contribute to autism. We will develop a detailed animal model of vertebrate social predispositions using the domestic chick, relating this work closely to equivalent behavioural and neural measures in human newborns including those at risk of autism, for which there is no widely accepted animal model. We aim to:(1) identify in chicks neural systems underlying known social predispositions; (2) study their physiological, genetic and molecular bases; (3) pursue behavioural parallels between chick and human predispositions; (4) study brain structures activated in human newborns as they view social stimuli; (5) by studying social attachment in chicks not expressing specific predispositions, develop a secure animal model of autism.
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