Self-reported Sensory Hypersensitivity Moderates Association Between Tactile Psychophysical Performance and Autism-Related Traits in Neurotypical Adults
Atypical responses to tactile stimulation have been linked to core domains of dysfunction in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and phenotypic traits associated with ASD in neurotypical individuals. We investigated (a) the extent to which two psychophysically derived measures of tactile sensitivity—detection threshold and dynamic range—relate to traits associated with ASD and (b) whether those relations vary according to the presence of self-reported sensory hypersensitivities in neurotypical individuals. A narrow dynamic range was associated with increased autism-related traits in individuals who reported greater sensory hypersensitivity. In contrast, in individuals less prone to sensory hypersensitivity, a narrow dynamic range was associated with reduced autism-related traits. Findings highlight the potential importance of considering dynamic psychophysical metrics in future studies.
KeywordsTactile Somatosensory Autism Psychophysics Dynamic range Broader phenotype
Autism spectrum disorder
Restricted interests/repetitive behaviors
The Achenbach system of empirically based assessment adult self-report
Social responsiveness scale- 2
Weschler abbreviated scale of intelligence-2
Full-scale intelligence quotient
Sensory perception questionnaire
Broader autism phenotype questionnaire
Voice coil actuator
Left hand digit 2
False alarm rate
This work was supported by the National Institute of Health—F31MH106291 (LKB), R01MH102272 (CJC), U54HD083211 (Neul), and by CTSA award No. UL1TR000445 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences or the National Institutes of Health. The authors thank Dr. Mark Tommerdahl and Dr. Jameson Holden for their technical support, and former lab member Dr. Aaron Nidiffer for his instrumental input from the inception of this project. The authors would also like to acknowledge a team of undergraduates for their role in data collection and data entry and the Cascio and Wallace Laboratories for their support.
LKB conceived and designed this study with input from CJC and MTW. LKB implemented this study with help coordinating data collection and data entry from undergraduate research students. LKB and TGW performed the data analyses, interpreted the results, and produced the main data illustrations with assistance from AN (see acknowledgments). LKB generated the first draft of the paper. TGW, CJC, and MTW reviewed and revised the manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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