Scientists studying ‘autistic’ monkeys make groundbreaking discovery

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Scientists studying monkeys with autistic characteristics have made a groundbreaking discovery in understanding the condition early.

Researchers believe that the age old saying of "monkey see, monkey do", may actually tap into the science behind autism.

They reckon the amount of time a macaque monkey spends looking at faces will determine its behaviour.

And the results of their experiments could go some way to exploring and spotting what causes social difficulties in autism.

The first autistic monkeys were genetically modified by Chinese scientists in 2016 to carry a gene linked to autistic humans.

The monkeys started showing the classic signs of the disorder, including poor social skills.

And now a new team of experts have discovered ways to identify social problems early.

The preliminary findings, reported in July in the Developmental Psychobiology, claim their eye-tracking technique could help identify social difficulties in autistic people.

Macaques, like humans, are very social – but some can also be less confident and display behaviour similar to autistic humans.

To identify the monkeys with social struggles boffins place infants and their mothers were placed in a large cage with an adult male, reports Spectrum News.

They were then shown a series of photographs and videos, such as a close-up of another macaque’s face.

The scientists discovered macaques that spend the most time gazing at eyes in the photos and videos also interacted most with other infants.

The team watched each infant five-minute periods, examining how often it initiated interactions with its mother, another adult or an infant peer, and how long it spent interacting with peers.

For the eye-tracking measurements, the researchers placed each infant in a box with a peephole, through which it could view a screen showing a series of photographs and videos, such as a close-up of another macaque’s face.

The preliminary findings suggest that eye-tracking could be a useful tool for assessing macaques’ social behaviour.

And it may also help scientists explore the mechanisms that underlie social difficulties in autism.

  • Science
  • Monkeys

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