Neural Correlates of Hearing One’s Own Name and Others’ Names in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
A. D. Nijhof, J. Goris, M. Brass and J. R. Wiersema, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been linked to a different ‘sense of self’ from its very first descriptions, and studies indeed suggest altered self-referential processing in ASD. Infants later diagnosed with ASD often fail to respond to their own name (Zwaigenbaum et al., 2005), which has been argued to be a trait of the broader autism phenotype (e.g., Nadig et al., 2007). Surprisingly, as of yet, no published study has looked at neural correlates of hearing one’s own name in adults with ASD. In a recent ERP study (Cygan, Tacikowski, Ostaszewski, Chojnicka, Nowicka, 2014), neural responses to visual presentation of their own versus other people’s names were investigated in adults with ASD and neurotypical controls. P3 amplification was observed for seeing one’s own name (versus other names) in controls, while this effect was absent for adults with ASD, suggesting a self-referential processing deficit.


As we reasoned that investigating hearing one’s own name in ASD may be more ecologically valid than seeing one’s own name, we evaluated for the first time ERP responses to hearing one’s own name versus others’ names in adults with ASD and neurotypicals. We hypothesized a P3 enhancement for own name versus others’ names in neurotypicals, and this effect to be absent or diminished in adults with ASD.


Participants (ASD group: N = 24; neurotypical group: N = 23) performed an auditory oddball task, while their EEG was being recorded using 64 electrodes. Each participant was presented with 5 different sound conditions: standard sounds (66%, 198 trials), target sounds to which they had to respond (4%, 12 trials) and three task-irrelevant name conditions: own name, name of close other, unfamiliar name (each 10%, 30 trials).


A familiarity effect appeared at the frontocentral N1, with larger amplitudes for one’s own name and the name of a close other than an unfamiliar name. Groups did not differ with respect to this effect. The amplitude of an early P3 subcomponent with a central topography (P3a) was found to be enhanced for hearing one’s own name versus the name of a close other in the neurotypical group, indicating a self-referential effect. However, as hypothesized, this effect was lacking in adults with ASD.


ERPs showed an early familiarity effect at the N1, and a self-referential effect at the P3. Processing of familiarity was found to be intact in adults with ASD. However, adults with ASD were specifically impaired in self-referential processing as the typical P3a amplification for one’s own name as seen in neurotypicals was absent in adults with ASD. Hence, our findings indicate diminished self-referential processing of a highly familiar self-related stimulus, namely one’s own name, in adults with ASD, which may have a serious negative impact on everyday social interaction.