Human or Alien?: fMRI as a Diagnostic Tool for Autism Spectrum Disorders
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New research by Marcel Just et al. achieves a previously unattainable success rate (97%) for the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to diagnose autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). As a methodological by-product, they find that autists do not think of themselves as part of social interactions, but rather as “spectators”. In describing their research, Just et al. use the alien metaphor, a frequent recourse among both autists and neuro-normates. This article raises concern that this new technology and Just et al.’s findings could re-ground existing cultural stereotypes in biology, furthering autists’ alienation. When considered with autist memoirs, though, their findings suggest that there may be different ways to understand one’s self than through one’s relationship to other people. While fMRI’s potential as a diagnostic technology should be treated with caution, Just et al.’s other findings have potential philosophical and practical applications.
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