Mikle South, Department of Psychology
This grant was intended to train undergraduate students from psychology and life sciences in preparation for advanced study related to translational neuroscience, i.e. the application of basic research to clinically-‐useful objectives. Specifically we conducted studies of anxiety in autism including studies of emotion influences on learning and decision making.
Completed Academic Objectives.
We have published six papers directly related to this MEG grant about translational work with anxiety in autism. These articles are listed here. BYU undergraduate student authors are noted with an *asterix.
• South, M., *Chamberlain, P. D., Wigham, S., *Newton, T., Gray, L., Freeston, M., Parr, J., McConachie, H., Le Couter, A., Kirwan, C. B., & Rogers, J. (in press). Enhanced decision making and risk avoidance in young people with high-‐functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neuropsychology.
• *Chamberlain, P. D., Rodgers, J., Crowley, M. J., *White, S. E., Freeston, M. H., & South, M. (2013). A potentiated startle study of uncertainty and contextual anxiety in adolescents diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Molecular Autism 2013: 4:31.
• South, M., *Newton, T., & *Chamberlain, P.D. (2012). Delayed reversal learning and association with repetitive behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Research, 5, 398-‐406.
• South, M., Larson, M.J., *White, S.E., *Dana, J., & Crowley, M.J. (2011). Better fear conditioning is associated with reduced symptom severity in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Research 4, 412-‐421. 5 year impact factor: 4.78
• South, M., Wolf, J., & Herlihy, L. (2012). Future dimensions: neuroscience applications to practice in pediatric psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43, 60-‐567.
• Larson, M.J., South, M., *Clayson, P.E., & *Clawson, A. (2012). Cognitive control and conflict adaptation in individuals with high-‐functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 440-‐448.
Work that is secondary to this project, in collaboration with colleagues in the UK and at Yale, has included an additional four publications that do not include BYU student authors.
Data generated during this grant period are still being utilized for additional manuscript submissions. This is especially true for our genetics data. With the graduation of the mentored students some momentum for the genetics project related to our Intruder Paradigm (social threat) was lost. But I now have a new student working on it and anticipate future publication of at least two more papers that will include the MEG-‐ mentored students as co-‐authors.
In addition to these papers, students supported by the MEG contributed to 8 presentations at international conferences in Toronto (where the students presented) and Spain (where I presented on their behalf).
Work supported by the MEG funds has led to the development of models of emotion and decision making in autism, alongside my colleagues at Newcastle University. With support of the BYU Center for European Studies I was able to organize and lead a one-‐day workshop in Spain last May about anxiety in autism, including 28 researchers from 8 countries and 4 continents. At this workshop we proposed both a journal special issue and an edited book on the topic, both of which are under development right now.
Evaluation of the mentoring environment.
Our lab encourages independent thinking and project development within the context of a supportive mentoring environment. Two of the three papers generated by this project were directly proposed and undertaken by mentored students; the third was the result of collaborative discussion with colleagues in England that included substantial student input. Mentored students are involved in all phases of the project including experiment development, experiment completion, data extraction and analysis, and writing and presentation of final products. Students were trained in the use of Biopac and Acknowledge data collection and analysis of psychophysiology measures; EEG using EGI Geodesics instruments; SPSS statistical software; e-‐Prime experiment presentation software; Filemaker Pro and Qualtrics database and survey systems; and other relevant software packages.
List of mentored students.
These three students were the primary recipients of MEG funding. Numerous other students—including especially Ann Clawson and Whitney Worsham-‐-‐also benefitted indirectly from the MEG environment.
• Paul Chamberlain. Currently in medical school at Baylor University. Primary author on one MEG-‐supported publication and secondary author on two others.
• Sarah White. Currently in a doctoral program in neuroscience at UC-‐Davis. Co-‐ author on two publications related to the MEG grant.
• Tiffani Newton. Currently working in a neuropsychology clinic in Michigan. Co-‐ author on three MEG-‐related publications.
Description of the results/findings of the project.
We are systematically investigating the strengths and weaknesses of emotion-‐based decision making in autism. The primary finding from our MEG grant was that acquisition of fear learning in autism is intact, but that changing the rules—as in a reversal learning paradigm—is more difficult and is delayed in autism. This leads directly to another study that found that uncertainty per se—not knowing what will happen next—does not affect learning more or less in autism than in controls but that the overall environment of uncertainty may be associated with increased arousal in autism, which has important implications for understanding everyday life in autism. Thirdly we have confirmed and expanded on our previous findings that the style of decision making in autism seems to be more influenced by avoidance of negative outcomes, rather than reward-‐seeking behavior as is more typical of healthy teen controls. As noted above, these studies are providing the basis for formal models being developed with colleagues in the UK that are underlying future studies.
Description of how the budget was spent.
As proposed, most of the funds (~$12,000) were used for supporting undergraduate research assistants during that time. MEG funds were used to compensate research participants (~$4500) and for purchase of experiment supplies including electrodes and leads for psychophysiology measures