Vaughn R. Steele, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Michal Assaf, MD, director of research at the Mary W. Parker Autism Center and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry, are the principal investigators on a project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health that will study brain mechanisms in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The $3.78 million grant seeks to better understand deficits in “mentalizing,” a high-order social cognitive process that allows people to build representations of other people’s state of mind and adjust their own behaviors accordingly. These deficits are hypothesized to result in difficulties in social communication ASD.
Steele, Assaf, and their research team at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center in Hartford will use functional magnetic resonance imaging scans and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to better understand mentalizing in autistic individuals.
This research study aims to validate the neural mechanism of mentalizing in ASD, offering a crucial first step toward assessing the potential effectiveness of TMS in enhancing social behaviors in future clinical studies.