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Shifts in Behavioral Synchrony in Response to an Interaction Partner’s Distress in Adolescents With and Without ASD

Abstract

Individuals with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show altered behavioral synchrony and empathic behavior. Yet, an ecologically valid examination of these in adolescents is still required. We employed a social interaction sequence comprising a friendly conversation with a confederate, an expression of distress by her, and a return to friendly conversation. 44 male adolescents (22 with ASD) participated. Socio-emotional behaviors, coded by blind raters and through automated analyses of motion, were analyzed. Results indicated reduced synchrony in the ASD group. Moreover, whereas controls displayed a decrease in synchrony when facing another’s distress, adolescents with ASD showed no such change. No group differences were found on empathic behavior. Findings imply gaps between verbal and non-verbal responses of adolescents with ASD to a distressed interaction partner.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the adolescents who took part in the study, to Prof. Michal Lavidor for her advice, to Dr. Irit Mor-Snir for her support, and to Tomer Kleinfeld, Rolli Azenkot-Levi, Maayan Berkovitch, Anat Chomsky, Heli Cohen, Shulamit Deitch, Bat-Sheva Gans, Roni Golan, Noa Reinhardt and Lior Weil, for assisting with data collection and coding. This study was supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) to Ofer Golan (#1009/15) and to Ilanit Gordon (#2096/15 and #1726/15).

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EZ, IG, SJR and OG designed the study, collected the data and analyzed it, and wrote the manuscript. OG and RN composed the behavioral coding protocol. All authors approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ofer Golan.

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Zadok, E., Gordon, I., Navon, R. et al. Shifts in Behavioral Synchrony in Response to an Interaction Partner’s Distress in Adolescents With and Without ASD. J Autism Dev Disord (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05307-y

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavioral synchrony
  • Motion energy analysis
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Adolescence