Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 47, Issue 12, pp 3704–3713 | Cite as

Psychophysiological and Behavioral Responses to a Novel Intruder Threat Task for Children on the Autism Spectrum

  • Mikle South
  • Katherine M. Taylor
  • Tiffani Newton
  • Megan Christensen
  • Nathan K. Jamison
  • Paul Chamberlain
  • Oliver Johnston
  • Michael J. Crowley
  • J. Dee Higley
S.I. : Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorders


We measured skin conductance response (SCR) to escalating levels of a direct social threat from a novel, ecologically-relevant experimental paradigm, the Intruder Threat Task. We simultaneously evaluated the contribution of social symptom severity and behavioral movement. Children with AS group showed less psychophysiological reactivity to social threat than controls across all three phases of the experiment. In the AS group, greater social impairment was significantly associated with reduced SCR. However, movement activity predicted SCR while diagnosis did not. Research and treatment need to account for the complex interplay of emotional reactivity and social behavior in AS. Psychophysiology studies of AS should consider the impact of possible confounds such as movement.


Autism spectrum disorders Social threat Anxiety Skin conductance response 



Michael Crowley was supported by the Bial Foundation and NIDA K01DA034125. Mikle South and Dee Higley were supported by Brigham Young University Mentoring grants. Thanks also to Elaine Huntsman, Randy Gilliland, Sarah Van Tassell, Whitney Ernst, Ruth Kang, Aubri Robinson, Amber LeBaron, Kristal Nelson, Dominic Schmuck for data collection and processing; to Morgan Charles for the task description figure; and to Kevin G. Stephenson for statistical support. The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

Author Contributions

MS, KMT, and JDH conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; TN, OJ, NKJ, PC, and MC participated in the design and interpretation of the data; TN, MC, NKJ and PC participated in the coordination of the study, extracted and analyzed data, and reviewed the manuscript. MJC consulted on statistical analyses and interpretation and helped to draft and edit the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was funded by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award (MJC) Bial Foundation grant 2014/348 (MJC) and NIDA grant K01DA034125 (MJC).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mikle South
    • 1
  • Katherine M. Taylor
    • 1
  • Tiffani Newton
    • 1
  • Megan Christensen
    • 1
  • Nathan K. Jamison
    • 3
  • Paul Chamberlain
    • 1
    • 4
  • Oliver Johnston
    • 1
    • 5
    • 6
  • Michael J. Crowley
    • 2
  • J. Dee Higley
    • 1
  1. 1.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Yale Child Study CenterNew HeavenUSA
  3. 3.Indiana University School of MedicineIndianapolisUSA
  4. 4.Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  5. 5.Play Unplugged, Inc.BillingsUSA
  6. 6.Intermountain HealthcareSalt Lake CityUSA

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