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The Role of Attention in Autism

Question: How could research on attention help treat autism?

Tony Zador:  Yeah, so ultimately what we’re interested in understanding are the neural circuits underlying attention.  Autism, we think, is in large part a disorder of neural circuits.  Ultimately the cause of the disruption of neural circuits is partly genetic and partly environmental, but we think that the manifestation of that... of the environmental and genetic causes of autism is a disruption of neural circuits and in particular there is some reason to believe that it’s a disruption of long range neural circuits, at least in part, between the front of the brain and the back of the brain. And those are the kinds of neural pathways that we think might be important in guiding attention. 

Now one thing that pretty much anyone who has worked with autistic kids has found is that in many of them there is a disruption of auditory processing and especially of auditory attention, so one of the ongoing projects in my lab is to take mouse models that other people have developed of autism, that is mice in which genes that we think in humans when disrupted cause autism.  We take those genes, disrupt them in a mouse and now we have a mouse whose neural development is perhaps perturbed in the same way that it would be perturbed in a human with autism and then what we can ask is what happens to the neural circuits and how does that disruption of neural circuits affect auditory attention and these are ongoing studies in my lab right now.  We don’t really have final results yet, but that is because these mice have only very recently become available, so we’re very optimistic that by understanding how autism affects these long range connections, how those long range connections in turn affect attention that we’ll gain some insight into what is going on in humans with autism.

Recorded August 20, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

Studies into the neural circuitry of autistic mice could lead us to a better understanding of autism in humans—and the role that attention plays in it.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

Ernest Hemingway Holding His Son 1927 (Wikimedia Commons)
Culture & Religion

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?

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How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

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  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
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