Intersecting kinematic encoding and readout of intention in autism

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Feb 1;119(5):e2114648119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2114648119.


Observers with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) find it difficult to read intentions from movements. However, the computational bases of these difficulties are unknown. Do these difficulties reflect an intention readout deficit, or are they more likely rooted in kinematic (dis-)similarities between typical and ASD kinematics? We combined motion tracking, psychophysics, and computational analyses to uncover single-trial intention readout computations in typically developing (TD) children (n = 35) and children with ASD (n = 35) who observed actions performed by TD children and children with ASD. Average intention discrimination performance was above chance for TD observers but not for ASD observers. However, single-trial analysis showed that both TD and ASD observers read single-trial variations in movement kinematics. TD readers were better able to identify intention-informative kinematic features during observation of TD actions; conversely, ASD readers were better able to identify intention-informative features during observation of ASD actions. Crucially, while TD observers were generally able to extract the intention information encoded in movement kinematics, those with autism were unable to do so. These results extend existing conceptions of mind reading in ASD by suggesting that intention reading difficulties reflect both an interaction failure, rooted in kinematic dissimilarity between TD and ASD kinematics (at the level of feature identification), and an individual readout deficit (at the level of information extraction), accompanied by an overall reduced sensitivity of intention readout to single-trial variations in movement kinematics.

Keywords: action observation; autism; intention readout; intersection; kinematics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Biomechanical Phenomena / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Cognition
  • Comprehension / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Movement / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*