Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) Improves Empathy and Recognition of Facial Emotions Conveying Threat in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Introduction: Empathy is critical for human interactions to become shared and meaningful, and it is facilitated by the expression and processing of facial emotions. Deficits in empathy and facial emotion recognition are associated with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with specific concerns over inaccurate recognition of facial emotion expressions conveying a threat. Yet, the number of evidenced interventions for facial emotion recognition and processing (FERP), emotion, and empathy remains limited, particularly for adults with ASD. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a noninvasive brain stimulation, may be a promising treatment modality to safely accelerate and/or enhance treatment interventions to increase their efficacy.
Methods: This study investigates the effectiveness of FERP, emotion, and empathy treatment interventions paired with tDCS for adults with ASD. Differences in scores on the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and on a FERP test were predicted for verum tDCS when compared to sham. Verum/sham tDCS was randomly assigned in a within-subjects, double-blinded design in adults with ASD without intellectual disability.
Results: Verum tDCS significantly improved EQ scores and FERP scores for emotions that conveyed threat.
Conclusions: These results suggest the potential for increasing the efficacy of treatment interventions by pairing them with tDCS for individuals with ASD.
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