Dissociating animacy processing in high-functioning autism: neural correlates of stimulus properties and subjective ratings

Bojana Kuzmanovic, Leonhard Schilbach, Alexandra L. Georgescu, Hanna Kockler, Natacha S. Santos, N. Jon Shah, Gary Bente, Gereon R. Fink, Kai Vogeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


When movements indicate meaningful actions, even nonbiological objects induce the impression of "having a mind" or animacy. This basic social ability was investigated in adults with high-functioning autism (HFA, n = 13, and matched controls, n = 13) by systematically varying motion properties of simple geometric shapes. Critically, trial-by-trial variations of (1) motion complexity of stimuli, and of (2) participants' individual animacy ratings were separately correlated with neural activity to dissociate cognitive strategies relying more closely on stimulus analysis vs. subjective experience. Increasing motion complexity did not yield any significant group differences, and in both groups, it correlated with neural activity in regions involved in perceptual and evaluative processing, including the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), superior temporal gyrus (STG) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). In contrast, although there were no significant behavioral differences between the groups, increasing animacy ratings correlated with neural activity in the insula, STG, amygdala, dorsal mPFC and PCC more strongly in controls than in HFA. These results indicate that in HFA the evaluation of stimulus properties cuing for animacy is intact, while increasing subjective ratings do not seem to be robustly related to social processing, including spontaneous mental state inferences and experience of salience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-325
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Animacy
  • dmPFC
  • High-functioning autism
  • Social cognition

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