The purpose of this study is to investigate emotional processing during auditory stimuli presentation, in subjects with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and healthy subjects. In particular, the study will apply functional imaging to understand neurobiological correlates of affective prosody and music perception. Studies have so far thoroughly explored the deficit of individuals with ASD in identifying emotions in visual stimuli (facial expressions), but little is known about their ability to perceive emotions conveyed by auditory stimuli such as affective prosody and music. Affective prosody is the melodic and rhythmic component of speech that listeners use to gain insight into a speaker's emotive disposition. While there is limited information about the ability of individuals with ASD to identify emotions in affective prosody, there is some evidence of impairment in this ability. Music has been found to be capable of evoking and conveying strong and consistent positive and negative emotions.
In a few experimental studies, subjects with ASD have been found to be able to properly identify the positive or negative emotional valence of music stimuli. Currently very few functional imaging studies have investigated affective prosody in subjects with ASD, suggesting different patterns of brain activation, and no functional imaging studies have explored emotional processing of music in these subjects. Evidence from clinical studies suggests impairments in the ability to understand emotion conveyed by prosodic cues and preserved ability to properly identify the emotional valence of music stimuli. By comparing subjects with ASD to healthy subjects we will identify impaired and preserved brain circuitries involved in emotion processing of voice and music, highlighting implications for specific therapeutic approaches. Musicotherapy could be in fact a useful tool to enhance social development in subjects with autism.
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