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Binocular rivalry dynamics associated with high levels of self-reported autistic traits suggest an imbalance of cortical excitation and inhibition

Dunn, Stephanie and Jones, Myles (2020) Binocular rivalry dynamics associated with high levels of self-reported autistic traits suggest an imbalance of cortical excitation and inhibition. Behavioural Brain Research. ISSN 0166-4328

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Abstract

An imbalance in cortical excitation and inhibition (E/I) may underlie both social and non-social symptoms of autism spectrum conditions (ASC). Recent work suggests that an E/I imbalance may underlie some of the sensory differences that are characteristic of ASCs such as anomalous perception. Binocular rivalry dynamics are thought to reflect the balance of E/I in the brain and could serve as a behavioural biomarker for ASC. Previous studies of clinical ASC populations have found a slower rate of binocular rivalry transitions; increased duration of the mixed percept and reduced perceptual suppression. There are some mixed reports of altered rivalry dynamics in the neurotypical population with high self-reported levels of autistic traits. Therefore, we used simple grating stimuli to measure binocular rivalry dynamics in a sample of seventy-nine adults aged 18-55 years. We additionally measured the level of autistic traits with the AQ-10 and used CAPS as a measure of anomalous perception. Bayesian correlations showed that those with higher AQ scores had a slower rate of perceptual switching and a longer mixed percept duration. Significant regression models with CAPS and AQ score revealed that AQ score was a significant predictor of switch rate and mixed percept duration, whereas CAPS was not. We also report that CAPS significantly predicted perceptual suppression, whereas AQ score did not. Overall, our findings suggest that in a non-clinical population, autistic traits are a predictor of binocular rivalry dynamics and the cortical E/I imbalance thought to underlie symptoms of ASC may extend to the broader phenotype.

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