CORNELL—A custom-built suite of science-fiction-themed video games may help researchers uncover clues to the chaotic nature of autism. Matthew Belmonte, assistant professor of human development at Cornell University, worked with collaborators in computer science to develop the video game suite called Astropolis.
Unlike much of the current research on autism, which isolates and tests a single domain, Belmonte designed the user-friendly games with embedded tasks that test users—children with autism or Asperger syndrome ages 10 to 15, along with their unaffected siblings—across multiple domains.
“Autism has been characterized as a fundamental perceptual abnormality; it’s been characterized as a fundamental attentional abnormality; it’s been characterized as a failure of theory-of-mind,” he says. “We each have our individual pet theories, and we each—me included—have designed experiments within these narrow theoretical apertures to confirm or refute hypotheses that are stated along our single tracks.”
In this experiment, he hopes to find links between social and nonsocial theories; and between behavioral and physiological data. He also hopes to sidestep a confounding factor common to autism research.
“When we look at people with autism in a lab, it’s not clear that we’re testing them under naturalistic conditions, because one of the hallmarks of autism is very high levels of anxiety—anxiety with new people, and anxiety with new places,” he explains. As a consequence, researchers often can’t be sure if their findings are due to autism itself or simply heightened anxiety. Continue reading at Futurity.org