Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 616–628 | Cite as

Emotional Resonance Deficits in Autistic Children

  • Alessandro GrecucciEmail author
  • Paolo Brambilla
  • Roma Siugzdaite
  • Danielle Londero
  • Franco Fabbro
  • Raffaella Ida Rumiati
Original Paper


According to some theories imitation, defined as an action resonance mechanism, is deficient in autism. In contrast, other theories (e.g., the “top down control of imitation” hypothesis) state that the problem is not in imitation per se but in the way social cues modulate imitative responses. In this study, 15 high-functioning children with autism and 15 matched controls were tested for their ability to imitate finger movements preceded by neutral and emotional facial expressions (primes) in a stimulus–response compatibility task. Hand movements performed after neutral expressions did not differ between the two groups (i.e., they both showed a normal imitative tendency). However, hand movements performed after emotional expressions significantly differed between the two populations, with controls, but not autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), showing enhanced imitation in the emotional condition. This study supports the view that, in ASD, imitation abilities are spared but they are not modulated according to the emotional and social context.


Imitation Action resonance Empathy Emotions Mirror neurons 



PB was partly supported by the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education (APIRE), by the Italian Ministry for University and Research and by the Italian Ministry of Health (IRCCS “E. Medea”). RIR was supported by a grant awarded by Beneficentia.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alessandro Grecucci
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Paolo Brambilla
    • 3
    • 5
  • Roma Siugzdaite
    • 4
  • Danielle Londero
    • 3
  • Franco Fabbro
    • 3
    • 6
  • Raffaella Ida Rumiati
    • 1
  1. 1.Cognitive Neuroscience SectorInternational School for Advanced Study (SISSA/ISAS)TriesteItaly
  2. 2.Department of Cognitive Science and Education (DiSCoF)/Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), Faculty of Cognitive ScienceUniversity of TrentoTrentoItaly
  3. 3.Scientific Institute, IRCCS “E. Medea”UdineItaly
  4. 4.Medical Image and Signal Processing (MEDISIP), Department of Electronics and Information SystemsGhent University Hospital IBiTechGhentBelgium
  5. 5.DISM, Inter-University Centre for Behavioural Neurosciences (ICBN)University of UdineUdineItaly
  6. 6.Department of Human SciencesUniversity of UdineUdineItaly

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