Preston & de Waal are understandably cautious in applying their model to autism. They emphasise multiple cognitive impairments in autism, including prefrontal-executive, cerebellar-attention, and amygdala-emotion recognition deficits. Further empirical examination of imitation ability in autism may reveal deficits in the neural and cognitive basis of perception-action mapping that have a specific relation to the empathic deficit.
Tomasello et al. highlight how in combination cognitive impairments and affective impairments help explain why individuals with autism do not enter fully into human culture. We query whether the motivational component is a later development in human ontogeny and whether the cognitive level of intention reading is intact in autism. A key question is what neuropsychological impairments underlie this cognitive–affective impairment.
The development of action representation during adolescence was investigated using a visually guided pointing motor task to test motor imagery. Forty adolescents and 33 adults were instructed to both execute and imagine hand movements from a starting point to a target of varying size. Reaction time was measured for both Execution and Imagery conditions. There is typically a close association between time taken to execute and image actions in adults because action execution and action simulation rely on overlapping neural circuitry. (...) Further, representations of actions are governed by the same speed-accuracy trade-off as real actions, as expressed by Fitts’ Law. In the current study, performance on the VGPT in both adolescents and adults conformed to Fitts’ Law in E and I conditions. However, the strength of association between E and I significantly increased with age, reflecting a refinement in action representation between adolescence and adulthood. (shrink)