Autism-LASR Lab seeking research participants for study on sensory experiences

The Autism-LASR (Laboratory of Affective Sensory Research) is seeking participants for a study investigating relationships between emotion and interoception (the physical sensation of internal organs working, such as the feeling of your heartbeat).

Who might qualify?
You may quality if you (or your child) are:

  • Between 8-60 years old
  • Have or do not have a diagnosis of autism
  • Able and willing to reliably follow verbal instructions in the laboratory

This study will involve:

  • 3-4 sessions, each lasting between 2 and 4 hours;
  • clinical and cognitive assessments;
  • wearing an EKG monitor, both at rest and while performing visual and interoception tasks;
  • an EEG;
  • an MRI scan; and
  • completing several questionnaires about your (or your child’s) behavior, health and sensory experiences.

Participants will be compensated $15 per hour for their time, with a $25 bonus for completing all questionnaires. For more information, contact Caitlin Convery at 615-936-7220 or

About the study:
Altered sensory experiences are prevalent in autism and have been implicated in not only the core behavioral characteristics of impaired social communication and repetitive behaviors, but in a range of associated conditions including sleep disturbances and anxiety. Recent work strongly suggests that the predictability, or lack thereof, of sensory stimuli may influence the link between sensory sensitivity, anxiety and social motivation in autism.

Most sensory research thus far has emphasized exteroceptive sensation-sensory signals that originate in the external environment, with less work on interoceptive sensation-sensory signals that arise from the internal organs and skin to signal the brain about the physiological condition of the body. These interoceptive cues are often the precursors of emotional experience and thus are relevant to several conditions in psychiatry or psychology. Social stimuli are embedded in the external environment, but understanding their emotional significance requires a continuous exchange of information between exteroceptive and interoceptive processing streams. In other words, successful navigation of the social world depends on multisensory integration across the body boundary.

Critically for autism, many visceral interoceptive signals tend to be very rhythmic (e.g., cardiac signals), and/or are under voluntary control (e.g., respiratory signals) and are thus far more predictable than environmental exteroceptive cues. This predictability is enhanced on average in individuals with autism, who tend to have higher heart rates and lower heart rate variability than controls. In the current project period, we found evidence for profoundly disrupted temporal integration of visceral interoceptive and exteroceptive signals without clear evidence of disrupted interoception alone. We now propose to isolate and test potential neural drivers and clinical sequelae of this disrupted integration.

The proposed work will provide important new insights into the consequences of sensory processing deficits in autism that go beyond exteroceptive sensation, incorporating a sensory milieu that has high relevance for social-emotional functioning.