Autism: Autistic Brains Create More Information at Rest

Roberto Fernández Galán, PhD Department of Neurosciences, School of Medicine Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH, Interview with:
Roberto Fernández Galán, PhD
Department of Neurosciences, School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH, USA What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Galán: The main finding is that autistic brains create more information at rest than non-autistic brains. This is consistent with the classical view on autism as withdrawal into self. It is also consistent with a recent theory on autism, the “Intense World Theory”, which claims that autism results from hyper-functioning neural circuitry, leading to a state of excessive arousal. From both perspectives, the classical and the IWT, communication and social deficits associated with autism result from having a more intense inner life and a higher level of introspection. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Galán: Our results were indeed unexpected although in hindsight, they fit very well with the theories on autism referred to above. There was another revelation, on a philosophical level, that pertains to the classical dichotomy between mind and body: while the body is a material entity and its physiological processes can be measured and quantified in various ways, measuring mental processes, such as introspection is not trivial. Surprisingly enough, a mathematical framework that engineers routinely use in the design of electronic devices, known as information theory, when applied to the analysis of brain activity at rest could take neatly apart autistic brains from non-autistic brains, suggesting that it can measure introspection, or perhaps some other cognitive feature that is distinct in autism. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Galán: There are two take-home messages.

  • The first one is that the analysis of brain activity, even when recorded on a large scale, such as with magnetoencephalography (MEG), has a strong potential for developing novel biomarkers for autism and possibly other cognitive types as well.
  • The second one is that although we cannot tell what the subjects are thinking, we can tell that autistic brains create more information at rest, which suggests that they process information differently even in the absence of significant stimuli. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Galán: This study demonstrates the benefits of applying interdisciplinary approaches from engineering, mathematics and neuroscience to understand how the brain works, and how typical and atypical brains differ from each other.


Information Gain in the Brain’s Resting State: A New Perspective on Autism

Published online 2013 December 24.
doi:  10.3389/fninf.2013.00037

José L. Pérez Velázquez and Roberto F. Galán