Social intelligence in the normal and autistic brain: an fMRI study.


There is increasing support for the existence of 'social intelligence' [Humphrey (1984) Consciousness Regained], independent of general intelligence. Brothers et al. 1990) J. Cog. Neurosci., 4, 107-118] proposed a network of neural regions that comprise the 'social brain': the orbito-frontal cortex (OFC), superior temporal gyrus (STG) and amygdala. We tested Brothers' theory by examining both normal subjects as well as patients with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome (AS), who are well known to have deficits in social intelligence, and perhaps deficits in amygdala function [Bauman & Kemper (1988) J. Neuropath. Exp. Neurol., 47, 369]. We used a test of judging from the expressions of another person's eyes what that other person might be thinking or feeling. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we confirmed Brothers' prediction that the STG and amygdala show increased activation when using social intelligence. Some areas of the prefrontal cortex also showed activation. In contrast, patients with autism or AS activated the fronto-temporal regions but not the amygdala when making mentalistic inferences from the eyes. These results provide support for the social brain theory of normal function, and the amygdala theory of autism.