In addition to impairments in social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, deficits in sensory processing are now recognized as a core symptom in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our ability to perceive and interact with the external world is rooted in sensory processing. For example, listening to a conversation entails processing the auditory cues coming from the speaker (speech content, prosody, syntax) as well as the associated visual information (facial expressions, gestures). Collectively, the “integration” of these multisensory (i.e., combined audiovisual) pieces of information results in better comprehension. Such multisensory integration has been shown to be strongly dependent upon the temporal relationship of the paired stimuli. Thus, stimuli that occur in close temporal proximity are highly likely to result in behavioral and perceptual benefits – gains believed to be reflective of the perceptual system's judgment of the likelihood that these two stimuli came from the same source. Changes in this temporal integration are expected to strongly alter perceptual processes, and are likely to diminish the ability to accurately perceive and interact with our world. Here, a battery of tasks designed to characterize various aspects of sensory and multisensory temporal processing in children with ASD is described. In addition to its utility in autism, this battery has great potential for characterizing changes in sensory function in other clinical populations, as well as being used to examine changes in these processes across the lifespan.
16 Related JoVE Articles!
Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Quantification of Social Behavior in Adult Rats
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of Lethbridge.
Alterations in social behavior are among the major negative consequences observed in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Several independent laboratories have demonstrated robust alterations in the social behavior of rodents exposed to alcohol during brain development across a wide range of exposure durations, timing, doses, and ages at the time of behavioral quantification. Prior work from this laboratory has identified reliable alterations in specific forms of social interaction following moderate prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) in the rat that persist well into adulthood, including increased wrestling and decreased investigation. These behavioral alterations have been useful in identifying neural circuits altered by moderate PAE1
, and may hold importance for progressing toward a more complete understanding of the neural bases of PAE-related alterations in social behavior. This paper describes procedures for performing moderate PAE in which rat dams voluntarily consume ethanol or saccharin (control) throughout gestation, and measurement of social behaviors in adult offspring.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, Aggression, Alcohol Teratogenesis, Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders, ARND, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, FASD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS, Social interaction
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
Practical Methodology of Cognitive Tasks Within a Navigational Assessment
Institutions: Laurentian University, Laurentian University.
This paper describes an approach for measuring navigation accuracy relative to cognitive skills. The methodology behind the assessment will thus be clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner. Navigational skills are important when trying to find symbols within a speech-generating device (SGD) that has a dynamic screen and taxonomical organization. The following skills have been found to impact children’s ability to find symbols when navigating within the levels of an SGD: sustained attention, categorization, cognitive flexibility, and fluid reasoning1,2
. According to past studies, working memory was not correlated with navigation1,2
The materials needed for this method include a computerized tablet, an augmentative and alternative communication application, a booklet of symbols, and the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R)3
. This method has been used in two previous studies. Robillard, Mayer-Crittenden, Roy-Charland, Minor-Corriveau and Bélanger1
assessed typically developing children, while Rondeau, Robillard and Roy-Charland2
assessed children and adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The direct observation of this method will facilitate the replication of this study for researchers. It will also help clinicians that work with children who have complex communication needs to determine the children’s ability to navigate an SGD with taxonomical categorization.
Behavior, Issue 100, Augmentative and alternative communication, navigation, cognition, assessment, speech-language pathology, children
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g.,
allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms.
Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces.
Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
Adapting Human Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study Methods to Detect and Characterize Dysphagia in Murine Disease Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, University of Missouri, University of Missouri.
This study adapted human videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) methods for use with murine disease models for the purpose of facilitating translational dysphagia research. Successful outcomes are dependent upon three critical components: test chambers that permit self-feeding while standing unrestrained in a confined space, recipes that mask the aversive taste/odor of commercially-available oral contrast agents, and a step-by-step test protocol that permits quantification of swallow physiology. Elimination of one or more of these components will have a detrimental impact on the study results. Moreover, the energy level capability of the fluoroscopy system will determine which swallow parameters can be investigated. Most research centers have high energy fluoroscopes designed for use with people and larger animals, which results in exceptionally poor image quality when testing mice and other small rodents. Despite this limitation, we have identified seven VFSS parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice when using a high energy fluoroscope in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol. We recently obtained a low energy fluoroscopy system with exceptionally high imaging resolution and magnification capabilities that was designed for use with mice and other small rodents. Preliminary work using this new system, in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol, has identified 13 swallow parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice, which is nearly double the number obtained using conventional (i.e.,
high energy) fluoroscopes. Identification of additional swallow parameters is expected as we optimize the capabilities of this new system. Results thus far demonstrate the utility of using a low energy fluoroscopy system to detect and quantify subtle changes in swallow physiology that may otherwise be overlooked when using high energy fluoroscopes to investigate murine disease models.
Medicine, Issue 97, mouse, murine, rodent, swallowing, deglutition, dysphagia, videofluoroscopy, radiation, iohexol, barium, palatability, taste, translational, disease models
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making