Heritable aspects of biological motion perception and its covariation with autistic traits

Ying Wang, Li Wang, Qian Xu, Dong Liu, Lihong Chen, Nikolaus F. Troje, Sheng He, Yi Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

The ability to detect biological motion (BM) and decipher the meaning therein is essential to human survival and social interaction. However, at the individual level, we are not equally equipped with this ability. In particular, impaired BM perception and abnormal neural responses to BM have been observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a highly heritable neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by devastating social deficits. Here, we examined the underlying sources of individual differences in two abilities fundamental to BM perception (i.e., the abilities to process local kinematic and global configurational information of BM) and explored whether BM perception shares a common genetic origin with autistic traits. Using the classical twin method, we found reliable genetic influences on BM perception and revealed a clear dissociation between its two components—whereas genes account for about 50% of the individual variation in local BM processing, global BM processing is largely shaped by environment. Critically, participants’ sensitivity to local BM cues was negatively correlated with their autistic traits through the dimension of social communication, with the covariation largely mediated by shared genetic effects. These findings demonstrate that the ability to process BM, especially with regard to its inherent kinetics, is heritable. They also advance our understanding of the sources of the linkage between autistic symptoms and BM perception deficits, opening up the possibility of treating the ability to process local BM information as a distinct hallmark of social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1937-1942
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume115
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 20 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the two reviewers for their constructive comments, Jie chen for assistance during Mx data analyses. This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants 31525011, 31671137, and 31771211), the Strategic Priority Research Program (Grants XDB02010003 and XDB02050001), the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences (Grant QYZDB-SSW-SMC030), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (to N.F.T.).

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank the two reviewers for their constructive comments, Jie chen for assistance during Mx data analyses. This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants 31525011, 31671137, and 31771211), the Strategic Priority Research Program (Grants XDB02010003 and XDB02050001), the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences (Grant QYZDB-SSW-SMC030), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (to N.F.T.).

Keywords

  • Autistic traits
  • Behavioral genetics
  • Biological motion
  • Social cognition
  • Twins

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