Anterior EEG asymmetry and the modifier model of autism

Courtney P. Burnette, Heather A. Henderson, Anne Pradella Inge, Nicole E. Zahka, Caley B. Schwartz, Peter C. Mundy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Individual differences in the expression of autism complicate research on the nature and treatment of this disorder. In the Modifier Model of Autism (Mundy et al. 2007), we proposed that individual differences in autism may result not only from syndrome specific causal processes, but also from variability in generic, non-syndrome specific modifier processes that affect the social and emotional development of all people. One study supporting this model found that measures of resting anterior EEG asymmetry, a measure reflecting complex brain processes associated with generic individual differences in approach and avoidance motivation, may help explain differences in the expression of autism in children without intellectual disabilities (Sutton et al. 2005). In the current study, we partially replicated the observation that children with autism who exhibited a pattern of left frontal EEG asymmetry tended to display milder levels of social symptoms, although in the current sample this pattern applied only to HFA children with relatively lower verbal IQs. New observations indicated that left frontal EEG asymmetry was also associated with retrospective parent reports of significantly later age of onset of symptoms, but also higher levels of self-reported outward expressions of anger as well as symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder in school-age higher functioning children with ASD. Therefore, the results of this study provide a new and fully independent set of observations, which indicate that individual differences in anterior EEG asymmetry may significantly moderate the expression and developmental course of autism. This observation may have clinical implications for identifying meaningful diagnostic sub-groups among children with autism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1113-1124
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • EEG asymmetry
  • Individual differences
  • Social motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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