H-F senior spent summer internship as part of autism research team

Maddie Moxley, a senior at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, spent part of her summer as a member of a team at the California Institute of Technology researching emotional reactions of people with autism.
  Maddie Moxley worked
  with a team at California
  Institute of Technology
  during summer 2017
  doing research on autism
  and emotional responses.

  (Photo by Marilyn Thomas/
  H-F Chronicle)
Maddie will be listed as a team member on the research findings “Atypical Bodily Maps of Emotions in Autism.”  Over her four-week internship she was a data analyst for the neuroscience team and was excited to get experience working in a lab.
The team was researching how the 15 people with “normal brains” and 15 with middle range autism spectrum disorder (ASD) would get physical sensations to emotional reactions for anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. For example, when you are happy and excited there is an increased sensation on the chest and head area. 
She said what we physically feel for emotions isn’t something we normally think about. But, the reactions can tell scientists and doctors how persons with autism may seem to lack emotion when in reality they are having a difficult time expressing a reaction. It may also point to their ability to reason through a situation and express it verbally.
“You can’t induce emotion (during the study) but we asked them to think about a situation where they felt that emotion,” Maddie told an audience of students and teachers during a Sept. 22 presentation on her research.
The individuals in the control group were given a computer test that had a drawing of the body that got colored in to indicate what parts of the body got sensation for a specific emotion. They also took a pen and paper test to physically color on the body drawing. Finally, they did a verbal interview to express what they feel for these emotions.
At each step, Maddie was part of the team that assessed the tests. On the computer test, they looking at how many pixels were registered. On the verbal test they looked at word responses.

For autistic people, sadness is a harder emotion to communicate than other emotions. Researchers found the ASD group used third-person pronouns in describing the emotions, which could mean a  “sort of out of body experience,” Maddie said.
Maddie, the daughter of Tracie and Mark Moxley of Homewood, is enrolled in H-F’s International Baccalaureate Program. She said the research was very interesting, but in college she plans to major in particle physics.
She told students she did the internship because she wanted to experience the dynamics and critical thinking of working in a lab. She urged her classmates to consider internships.
“H-F (students) are so qualified, not just for STEM careers but for careers in general,” she reminded them.

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