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A prosocial online game for social cognition training in adolescents with high-functioning autism: an fMRI study

Authors Chung U, Han DH, Shin YJ, Renshaw P

Received 18 August 2015

Accepted for publication 28 January 2016

Published 17 March 2016 Volume 2016:12 Pages 651—660


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Un-sun Chung,1 Doug Hyun Han,2 Yee Jin Shin,3 Perry F Renshaw4

1Department of Psychiatry, Kyungpook National University Hospital, Daegu, Republic of Korea; 2Department of Psychiatry, Chung Ang University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea; 3Department of Psychiatry, Yonsei University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea; 4Brain Institute, Utah University, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Abstract: To help patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their social skills, effective interventions and new treatment modalities are necessary. We hypothesized that a prosocial online game would improve social cognition in ASD adolescents, as assessed using metrics of social communication, facial recognition, and emotional words. Ten ASD adolescents underwent cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) using a prosocial online game (game-CBT), and ten ASD adolescents participated in an offline-CBT. At baseline and 6 weeks later, social communication quality, correct identification of emotional words and facial emoticons, and brain activity were assessed in both groups. Social communication quality and correct response rate of emotional words and facial emoticons improved in both groups over the course of the intervention, and there were no significant differences between groups. In response to the emotional words, the brain activity within the temporal and parietal cortices increased in the game-CBT group, while the brain activity within cingulate and parietal cortices increased in the offline-CBT group. In addition, ASD adolescents in the game-CBT group showed increased brain activity within the right cingulate gyrus, left medial frontal gyrus, left cerebellum, left fusiform gyrus, left insular cortex, and sublobar area in response to facial emoticons. A prosocial online game designed for CBT was as effective as offline-CBT in ASD adolescents. Participation in the game especially increased social arousal and aided ASD adolescents in recognizing emotion. The therapy also helped participants more accurately consider associated environments in response to facial emotional stimulation. However, the online CBT was less effective than the offline-CBT at evoking emotions in response to emotional words.

Keywords: autism, online games, sociality, cognitive behavior therapy, functional magnetic resonance image

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