Peer rejection is particularly pervasive among adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, how adolescents with ASD differ from typically developing adolescents in their responses to peer rejection is poorly understood. The goal of the current investigation was to examine neural responses to peer exclusion among adolescents with ASD compared to typically developing adolescents. Nineteen adolescents with ASD and 17 typically developing controls underwent fMRI as they were ostensibly excluded by peers during an online game called Cyberball. Afterwards, participants reported their distress about the exclusion. Compared to typically developing adolescents, those with ASD displayed less activity in regions previously linked with the distressing aspect of peer exclusion, including the subgenual anterior cingulate and anterior insula, as well as less activity in regions previously linked with the regulation of distress responses during peer exclusion, including the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. Interestingly, however, both groups self-reported equivalent levels of distress. This suggests that adolescents with ASD may engage in differential processing of social experiences at the neural level, but be equally aware of, and concerned about, peer rejection. Overall, these findings contribute new insights about how this population may differentially experience negative social events in their daily lives. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Masten, C. L., Colich, N. L., Rudie, J. D., Bookheimer, S. Y., Eisenberger, N. I., & Dapretto, M. (2011). An fMRI investigation of responses to peer rejection in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 1(3), 260–270. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2011.01.004