Self-reflection is processed differently by the brains of individuals with autism, new research shows, which could explain why people with the disorder have trouble with social skills.

Brain scans of men with autism showed similar levels of activity whether the men were thinking about themselves or someone else. In contrast, men without autism experienced increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex section of the brain, which is responsible for self-reflection, when they were asked questions about themselves, researchers report Monday in the journal Brain.

The brain scans were conducted while researchers asked 66 men — half with autism and half without — a series of questions. In some cases researchers wanted to know about the person’s own thoughts or preferences and in other cases they asked about the Queen of England.

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The findings could help researchers better understand the social skills difficulties faced by those with autism.

“Navigating social interactions with others requires keeping track of the relationship between oneself and others. The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child’s social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them,” said Michael Lombardo, who conducted the research at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge in England.

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