reduced activation during the presentation of social stimuli, and reduced resting blood flow have all been reported in the superior temporal sulcus in individuals with autism (Gendry Meresse, Zilbovicius, et al., 2005; Gervais, Belin, et al., 2004; Zilbovicius, Boddaert, et al., 2000; Zilbovicius, Meresse, et al., 2006). In addition, several functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have implicated dysfunction of the mirror neuron system in persons with autism (Dapretto et al., 2006; Williams, Waiter, et al., 2006).
Self-regulatory control is the capacity to weigh prospects for short-term gain from an action against its potential, more remote adverse consequences and to monitor and update the action plan as it unfolds. Broad expanses of the cortex and subcortex subserve the functions of self-regulatory control (Leung, Skudlarski, et al., 2000; Peterson, Skudlarski, et al., 1999; Peterson, Staib, et al., 2001). Both children and adults engage frontostriatal circuits to perform tasks that require self-regulatory control, but they do so progressively more with increasing age. Thus increasing activity of these systems during development is likely to be responsible for the superior performance of adolescents and adults compared with children on tasks that require self-regulatory control (Marsh, Zhu, et al., 2006).
Regulatory control involves control not only of actions, but also of emotions. Reassigning emotional labels to emotion-provoking stimuli, such as emotional faces and scenes, can alter the perceived pleasantness and arousal that the stimuli produce. Known as cognitive reappraisal, this reassignment produces activation of the lateral prefrontal, dorsomedial prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and occipital cortices. Activation of the ventral prefrontal cortex correlates inversely with activity in the amygdala, suggesting that cognitive reappraisal activates the frontal cortex and that the frontal cortex in turn modulates emotion-processing activity in the amygdala (Ochsner, Bunge, et al., 2002). Successful voluntary suppression of the unpleasant emotions activates similar circuits in direct proportion to the intensity of those emotions (Phan, Fitzgerald, et al., 2005). The circuits that cognitive reappraisal and emotional regulation engage are remarkably similar to the circuits activated by other, more purely cognitive, tasks that require self-regulatory control (Ochsner and Gross, 2005).
Maturation of self-regulatory functions largely defines human development, and the self-regulatory circuits that have been identified in normal individuals have been implicated in the pathogenesis of a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses. In fact, the capacity for self-regulatory control is one of the strongest predictors of outcome in longitudinal studies of psychopathology in children (Masten, 2004, 2007). Disturbances in these circuits are unlikely to cause disorders in and of themselves. Instead, they