Neural responses to biological motion distinguish autistic and schizotypal traits

Matthew Hudson, Severi Santavirta, Vesa Putkinen, Kerttu Seppälä, Lihua Sun, Tomi Karjalainen, Henry K. Karlsson, Jussi Hirvonen, Lauri Nummenmaa

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Difficulties in social interactions characterize both autism and schizophrenia and are correlated in the neurotypical population. It is unknown whether this represents a shared etiology or superficial phenotypic overlap. Both conditions exhibit atypical neural activity in response to the perception of social stimuli and decreased neural synchronization between individuals. This study investigated if neural activity and neural synchronization associated with biological motion perception are differentially associated with autistic and schizotypal traits in the neurotypical population. Participants viewed naturalistic social interactions while hemodynamic brain activity was measured with fMRI, which was modeled against a continuous measure of the extent of biological motion. General linear model analysis revealed that biological motion perception was associated with neural activity across the action observation network. However, intersubject phase synchronization analysis revealed neural activity to be synchronized between individuals in occipital and parietal areas but desynchronized in temporal and frontal regions. Autistic traits were associated with decreased neural activity (precuneus and middle cingulate gyrus), and schizotypal traits were associated with decreased neural synchronization (middle and inferior frontal gyri). Biological motion perception elicits divergent patterns of neural activity and synchronization, which dissociate autistic and schizotypal traits in the general population, suggesting that they originate from different neural mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • action observation network
  • naturalistic fMRI
  • neural synchronization
  • social neuroscience
  • social perception

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)


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