In our daily lives, the ability to integrate and process internal signals originating from ourselves is known as interoception. It is important for us to develop the self-other boundary, social skills and facilitates the interaction between our own embodied selves and the external environment.
Dr. Raymond Chan's team from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has recently showed that interoceptive accuracy significantly differs between typically-developing preschool children, adolescents and adults.
Accumulating evidence suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorders and subthreshold autistic symptoms are characterized by significant impairments in social communications and emotion expression (such as alexithymia).
Alexithymia may also serve as an important node connecting interoceptive deficits, self-awareness, and empathic performance in individuals with autistic traits , i.e., sharing similar but less severe impairments in social and communicative skills comparing to clinically diagnosed cases of autism, also exhibit both alexithymia and interoceptive-exteroceptive sensory integration impairments.
In order to further examine such an issue, Dr. Raymond Chan's team has developed the Interoception-Exteroception Synchronicity Judgement (IESJ) task to specifically examine participants' interoceptive accuracy, exteroceptive accuracy, and the balancing score that reflected the ability to allocate attention between interoceptive and exteroceptive signals.
They administered the IESJ task and the Heartbeat Tracking Task as well as a set of self-report scales to 119 typically-developing youths.
They then classified participants to 30 individuals with low level of autistic traits and 33 individuals with high level of autistic traits for subsequent data analysis.
Their results showed that individuals with low level of autistic traits exhibited comparable interoceptive accuracy, exteroceptive accuracy, and balancing scores as the individuals with high level of autistic traits. However, it is noteworthy that alexithymia, rather than autistic traits, was correlated with lower interoceptive accuracy and interoceptive sensibility.
Taken together, these findings provide insight into the relationships between autistic traits, interoceptive-exteroceptive sensory integration and alexithymia.
The IESJ task was shown to be a valid task to specifically capture interoceptive-exteroceptive sensory integration in individuals with autistic traits and even in clinical cases with autistic spectrum disorders. Future application of this task may help clarify how interoceptive signals are processed in clinical cases with autism spectrum disorders or other clinical cases with impairments in interoceptive-exteroceptive sensory integration.
This study was supported by grants form the National Science Foundation China and the CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health of the Institute of Psychology. And it is now available online on Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
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