Cognitive Psychology & Autism

See also:    Emotions    Executive Function    Memory    Theory of Mind   

Internet Resources

An asset or a deficit, presenting people with plausible frameworks seems to me to be one tool for getting round the social world that an autistic could make use of, once he or she gets a handle on how prone people are to fill in the blanks by invention so to speak. They might as well fill in the blanks your way rather than leaving this to blind chance or mere inclination. I am not suggesting that this framework be untrue to the person. Faking it never works for an autistic. But think how lovely it would be if people could be guided into thinking that you are amiable, helpful but shy and really prefer to be left alone and they do!
People are not only interested in using behaviors as symptoms of personality; they also want to make sense of behavior itself.
Bertram Malle
In the extreme case, severe autism may be characterized by almost no folk psychology (and thus mindblindness), but as autism and AS itself come by degrees, so different points on the autistic spectrum may involve degrees of deficit in folk psychology.
Simon Baron-Cohen
Results show that children with AS are impaired infolk psychology whilst being superior in folk physics. Future work needs to test if intuitive psychology and physics are truly independent of one another... or are inversely related to one another.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, V. Scahill, Lawson, Spong
Previous work suggests children with autism show superior performance (in relation to their general mental age) on the Embedded Figures Test (EFT). Frith interprets this as showing that they have "weak central coherence". In Experiment 1, using an adult level version of this task, we aimed to replicate and extend this finding, first, by collecting response time (RT) data; second, by testing adults with autism of normal intelligence; and third, by testing a group of adults with Asperger syndrome, in order to test for differences between autism and Asperger syndrome. Both clinical groups were significantly faster on the EFT. In Experiment 2, we investigated if this difference was due to a preference for local over global processing, using a novel drawing task based on the classical Rey Figure. The clinical groups did not differ significantly on this test, but there was a trend towards such a difference. Alternative explanations for the EFT superiority in autism and Asperger syndrome are considered.
Therese Jolliffe, Simon Baron-Cohen
Impairments of attention are among the most consistently reported cognitive deficits in autism, and they continue to be a key focus of research. This is in no doubt due to the importance of normal attention function to the development of many so-called "higher level" cognitive operations, and to the likely involvement of attention dysfunction in certain clinical features of autism. Autistic individuals display a wide range of attentional abilities and deficits across the many domains of attention function, including selective, sustained, spatial, and shifting attention operations. This unique pattern of attention function and dysfunction has profound implications for the development and treatment of autistic children. The present review will explore this pattern of attentional strengths and weaknesses and the neural defects that underlie them.
Greg Allen, Eric Courchesne
Two studies are reported that compare the descriptions given by children with and without autism of animated stimuli depicting mechanical launching effects, intentional reactions or sequences of mechanical and intentional reactions. Children were matched on chronological age, verbal mental age and IQ. The children with autism were as able as the control groups at differentiating mechanical launches from intentional reactions. Moreover, their descriptions of the longer action sequence were significantly different neither in length nor in their use of mental state language from those of the controls. However, finer-grained analyses of the accounts showed that the children with autism involved themselves more in the narrative than did control children. They also made less reference to episodes showing actions between animate objects, especially when the objects were not in contact. The implications of these findings for theories of autistic social dysfunction are discussed.
Dermot Bowler, Evelyne Thommen
A prospective look at autism as a psychological phenomenon with an eye to logical modelling.
Keith Stenning
Using theory of coherence as constraint satisfaction, we show how weak coherence can be simulated in connectionist network that has unusually high inhibition compared to excitation.
Claire O'Loughlin et al
Developmental research has considered the putative relationship between the ability to reverse an ambiguous figure (AF), and social metacognition (Theory of Mind) which both involve processing multiple representations. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to fail ToM tasks. Recent research has attempted to determine whether children with ASD also experience difficulty with AF reversal.
Lois Grayson
The present thesis aims to gain more insight into the variability in autistic symptomatology. It tries to identify symptom domains that may underlie the autistic behaviors, and it examines the use of a particular cognitive processing style in autistic subjects, as predicted by the theory of a weak central coherence, that tries to give an explanation of why autistic subjects display these behaviors. First, the question arises whether the symptom structure of autism is represented by the triad of impaired behavior domains, as described in the DSM-IV-TR. Recently, studies suggested that the symptom structure that underlies the autism spectrum disorders differs from the triad of behavior domains of the DSM. These findings indicate that it is important to investigate symptom domains in autism further, in order to find out if the symptom structure differs from the DSM triad and if the symptom domains that are derived, can be replicated in a new and Dutch sample. Three studies in the present thesis focus on symptom domains in a large group of Dutch subjects with autistic symptomatology in varying degrees of severity. Second, two other studies in the present thesis focus on the cognitive processing style of subjects with disorders in the autism spectrum. By means of the influential theory of a weak central coherence in autism, autistic subjects are hypothesized to process information in a detail-focused manner. Evidence for this theory is not well established yet. The present thesis therefore examines the hypothesized detail-focused processing style in two groups of subjects with autism spectrum disorders: a group functioning in the lower IQ ranges, and a group functioning in the mild-to-normal IQ range.
Natasja van Lang
Although the neurobiological understanding of autism has been increasing exponentially, the diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions still rests entirely on behavioural criteria. Autism is therefore most productively approached by a combination of biological and psychological theory. Psychologically, autism's triad of behavioural abnormalities in social function, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests can be explained by an impaired capacity for empathizing, or modelling the mental states governing the behaviour of people, along with a superior capacity for systemizing, or inferring the rules governing the behaviour of objects. This empathizing-systemizing theory explains other psychological models such as impairments of executive function or central coherence, and may have a neurobiological basis in abnormally low activity of brain regions subserving social cognition along with abnormally high activity of regions subserving lower-level, perceptual processing, a pattern that may result from a skewed balance of local versus long-range functional connectivity.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Matthew K Belmonte
Evidence is presented which indicate that these children spontaneously display only a fraction of their knowledge, disguising their real cognitive capacity by their autistic pattern of behaviour... No academic researcher can command the required knowledge of the individually specific autistic child to be able to extract the knowledge that the child does not voluntary reveal. Only full time workers with the child or someone who is prepared to invest months in close interaction with specific autistic children, can hope, with the utilization of intrusive techniques, to obtain anything like true assessments and measurements of their real knowledge and abilities, hidden behind their general and specific blocking behaviour. This is the reason that some parents and a few teachers have been successful with a few children, but interaction and success with all autistic children is possible, and their autistic pattern of behaviour can be overcome to a certain extent. Parents and teachers of autistic children should maintain hope, enthusiasm and high level of expectation.
Toni Brown
Autistic weak central coherence is most clearly shown in (non-conscious) processing preference, which may reflect the relative cost of two types of processing (relatively global and meaningful versus relatively local and piece-meal).
Francesca Happe
This paper provides an overview of selective research on autism. Autism forms part of a spectrum of related developmental disorders that vary in severity. Both their prevalence and severity argue for concerted efforts aimed at improving our understanding and treatment of the many individuals affected. We begin by outlining an important discovery that implicates an early prenatal insult to the developing brain stem in at least some people with autism (hereafter, the thalidomide discovery; Miller & Stromland, 1993). Several lines of evidence consistent with this claim are summarized. We then turn to recent research on early developing mechanisms of attention and emotion in autism. Evidence to be reviewed points to impairment in the disengage function of visual attention, and data are provided on the relationship between disengagement and the regulation of emotional states. Research on emotion focuses on the hypothesis, derived from the thalidomide discovery, that there may be a physical/anatomical basis to the lack of facial expressiveness in autism. We end by discussing the implications of this work for future research and for supporting children and adults with autism.
Vicki Rombough, Ann Wainwright
Two groups of children with autistic-type behavior problems were compared to a group of normal children with respect to their autonomic response patterns observed during the performance of an attention-demanding task. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory activity were measured during periods of rest and of task performance. Applying a quantitative model of the baroreflex, we were able to demonstrate qualitative differences among the groups with respect to their vagally controlled response patterns, whereas sympathetic responsiveness did not differ. In terms of our model, the groups with autistic-type behavior showed a decrease in central vagal tone during task performance, while vagal gain appeared to be unaffected or even increased. In contrast, the children in the control group showed the expected pattern of a decrease in vagal gain while vagal tone appeared to be increased. Implications of our findings are discussed in the light of Damasio's somatic marking hypothesis.
M. Althaus et al
Many authors have described a deficit of imitation of gestures and of symbolic and affective tasks in infants and young children with autism. This deficit is paradoxically associated with echolalia (atypical verbal imitation) and echopraxia (atypical gesture imitation) which in themselves appear to be excessive imitation. We have developed a brief clinical scale, the Imitation Disorders Evaluation scale (IDE scale), to evaluate these different early features of imitation disorders in autism. The present article reports (1) the validation study (interrater reliability, factor analysis) of the IDE scale carried out with a population of 30 infants and young children with autism aged from 10 to 46 months, and (2) the results of a follow-up study in which this scale was applied to a group of young children with autism (from 30 to 46 months) over 9 months' treatment. Factor analysis provided two factors: factor 1, called 'deficient imitation', comprising six items describing a deficit of facial, gestural, vocal and affective imitation; and factor 2, called 'atypical imitation', including echolalia, echopraxia and variability of imitation. The descriptive results of the follow-up study emphasize the sensitivity of the IDE scale for assessment of improvement in imitation disorders of early autism.
Joelle Malvy et al
Autism may give us an important clue that the brain in fact allows at least two distinct kinds of conscious experience: consciousness of the physical (e.g.: seeing an object)... and consciousness of the mental (e.g.: thinking about seeing an object)...
Simon Baron-Cohen
The communication of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a qualitative impairment in verbal and non-verbal communication. In past decades a growing body of descriptive studies has appeared on language and communication problems in ASD. Reviews suggest that the development of formal and semantic aspects is relatively spared, whereas pragmatic skills are considered to be specifically impaired. This unique profile was interpreted mainly within the framework of the theory of mind hypothesis, which links the social-communicative problems of people with autism to an incapacity to attribute mental states to themselves and others.
Ina Van Berckelaer-Onnes
Such is the tendency to focus on parts rather than wholes that, if and when the surrounding context of a figure is potentially misleading or confusing, they may actually find it easier than normal people to ignore the context and see through it.
Nicholas Humphrey
Writings by and about leading thinkers in cognitive science, and critics and observers of the philosophy of mind.
Martin Ryder
The objective of this prospective study was to evaluate the possible role of two cognitive styles - weak central coherence and poor cognitive shifting - in predicting social improvement in patients with autistic disorder.
Hans Berger et al
Children with a diagnosis of autism and typically developing children were given two variations of the Navon task (Navon, 1977), which required responding to a target that could appear at the global level, the local level, or both levels. In one variation, the divided attention task, no information was given to children regarding the level at which a target would appear on any one trial. In the other, the selective attention task, children were instructed to attend to either the local or the global level. Typically developing children made most errors when the target appeared at the local level whereas children with autism made more errors when the target appeared at the global level in the divided attention task. Both groups of children were quicker to respond to the global target than the local target in the selective attention task. The presence of normal global processing in the children with autism in one task but not in the other is discussed in terms of a deficit in mechanisms that inhibit local information in the absence of overt priming or voluntary selective attention to local information.
K. Plaisted, J. Swettenham, L. Rees
Reviews theory and research on the development of children's knowledge about the mental world, focusing especially on work done during the past 15 years under the rubric of theory-of-mind development.
John Flavell
Cognitive linguistics assumes that language develops by metaphorical extension. Basic bodily experiences, such as moving in space, seeing people and handling objects, provide the foundations of language.
Terri Eynon
In order to explain the cognitive and cerebral mechanisms responsible for the visuospatial peak in autism, and to document its specificity to this condition, a group of eight high-functioning individuals with autism and a visuospatial peak (HFA-P) performed a modified block-design task (BDT; subtest from Wechsler scales) at various levels of perceptual cohesiveness, as well as tasks tapping visuomotor speed, global perception, visual memory, visual search and speed of visual encoding. Their performance was compared with that of 8 autistics without a visuospatial peak (HFA-NP), 10 typically developing individuals (TD) and 8 gifted comparison participants with a visuospatial peak (TD-P). Both HFA-P and HFA-NP groups presented with diminished detrimental influence of increasing perceptual coherence compared with their BDT-matched comparison groups. Neither autistic group displayed a deficit in construction of global representations. The HFA-P group showed no differences in performance level or profile in comparison with the gifted BDT-matched [i.e. higher full-scale IQ (FSIQ)] group, apart from locally oriented perception. Diminished detrimental influence of perceptual coherence on BDT performance is both sensitive and specific to autism, and superior low-level processing interacts with locally oriented bias to produce outstanding BDT performance in a subgroup of autistic individuals. Locally oriented processing, enhanced performance in multiple tasks relying on detection of simple visual material and enhanced discrimination of first-order gratings converge towards an enhanced functioning and role of the primary visual cortex (V1) in autism. In contrast, superior or typical performance of autistics in tasks requiring global processing is inconsistent with the global-deficit-driven Weak Central Coherence hypothesis and its neurobiological magnocellular deficit counterpart.
M.-J. Caron, L. Mottron, C. Berthiaume, M. Dawson
Dissociation between verbal and visual-perceptual skills among older children and specific association of discrepantly high nonverbal skills with increased social symptoms, suggest that the nonverbal profile may index an etiologically significant subtype.
Robert Joseph, Helen Tager-Flusberg, Catherine Lord
The problem with Martians is defining their behaviour. We may suspect that they are saying something to us as they blow gently in the wind. Perhaps the swirling of ammonia through their many tubules is their way of thinking.
Jason Eisner
Electronic archive for papers in any area of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Linguistics, and many areas of Computer Science, Biology, Philosophy, related to cognition.
The use and understanding of self-presentational display rules (SPDRs) was investigated in 21 children with high-functioning autism (HFA), 18 children with Asperger's disorder (AspD) and 20 typically developing (TD) children (all male, aged 4- to 11-years, matched on mental age). Their behaviour was coded during a deception scenario to assess use of SPDRs; understanding of SPDRs was assessed via three real/apparent emotion-understanding vignettes. The children with HFA and AspD used less effective SPDRs than the TD children, but there were no group differences in understanding SPDRs. The children with HFA and AspD did not differ on their use or understanding of SPDRs, and the results are discussed in relation to the similarities and differences between these diagnostic conditions.
J. Barbaro et al
Language impairment is a defining feature of autism. However, remarkably little work has been done to determine the exact nature of the impairment or its underlying cause(s), and studies of the spontaneous language of people with autism are particularly rare. The immediate aim of the study is to test the broad hypothesis that concept formation, and hence vocabulary, is abnormal in autism.
Michael Perkins
A computational consideration in disorders such as autism and dyslexia suggested that one interpretation of this claim is in terms of networks with too few internal processing units to acquire a domain of a given complexity.
Michael Thomas, Annette Karmiloff-Smith
There appears to be a relative lack of the normal consciousness of the mental n the majority of cases with autism. This finding has the potential to explain the social, communicative, and imaginative abnormalities that are diagnostic of the condition...
Simon Baron-Cohen
It is argued that society is a crucial factor in the construction of individual intelligence. In other words that it is important that intelligence is socially situated in an analogous way to the physical situation o f robots.
Bruce Edmonds, Kerstin Dautenhahn
A tour of the human cerebral cortex
William Calvin, George Ojemann.
Sometimes getting information into or out of my head is like a very long conveyor belt. I set a package onto the conveyor belt, and it starts moving. But when it will get there, who knows. There are things I set on that conveyor belt five, ten, even fifteen years ago that haven't reached their destinations yet.
The objective of this study was to explore factors that affect the difficulty of counterfactual reasoning in 3-5-year-old children and to shed light on the reason why counterfactual reasoning relates to understanding false belief.
Josef Perner et al
Culture refers to shared patterns of human behaviour. Autism affects the ways that individuals eat, dress, work spend leisure time, understand their world, communicate, etc. Thus, in a sense, autism functions as a culture.
Gary Mesibov, Victoria Shea
The aim of this study was to examine executive functioning, in particular, attentional set-shifting deficits in high-functioning autism (n = 12) and Asperger's disorder (n = 12). A large or global digit composed of smaller or local digits was presented during each trial. The participants indicated the presence of 1s or 2s by pressing the appropriate button. These targets could appear globally or locally. Relative to IQ, sex and age matched controls, reaction time to global targets in individuals with autism was retarded when the previous target appeared locally. This deficiency in shifting from local to global processing, however, was not observed in individuals with Asperger's disorder. The theoretical and neurobiological significance of this dissociation in executive functioning in these clinically related disorders was explored.
Nicole J Rinehart et al
Interest regarding neural information processing in autism is growing because atypical perceptual abilities are a characteristic feature of persons with autism. Central to our review is how characteristic perceptual abilities, referred to as perceptual signatures, can be used to suggest a neural etiology that is specific to autism. We review evidence from studies assessing both motion and form perception and how the resulting perceptual signatures are interpreted within the context of two main hypotheses regarding information processing in autism: the pathway- and complexity-specific hypotheses. We present evidence suggesting that an autism-specific neural etiology based on perceptual abilities can only be made when particular experimental paradigms are used, and that such an etiology is most congruent with the complexity-specific hypothesis.
A. Bertone, J. Faubert
I have postulated that a deficit in x, being one of the processing and reasoning principles by means of which a 'control mechanism' operates with information, is probably the core problem in autism.
A. De Roeck, Nuyts
This paper stresses the need to assess various aspects of attention and frontal/executive functions that are often not sufficiently emphasized in the practice of clinical neuropsychology, yet are a critical component to any educational or rehabilitation intervention. A review of such functions with an emphasis on providing a developmental and cross-cultural context to their evaluation is offered.
Carmen G. Armengol
Subjects were asked to judge whether an artifact that was made for one purpose (e.g. making tea) and was currently being used for another purpose (e.g. watering flowers) was a teapot or a watering can.
Adee Matan, Susan Carey
It's not just abstractions that I perceive differently. For instance, I am well aware now that I perceive music, and respond to it mentally and emotionally, very differently than most people do. I can experience epiphanies while listening to certain kinds of music, or even, sometimes, while replaying music in my memory (I have a musical track going in my head most of the time). But I also find some other kinds of music--unfortunately much of it quite popular--very agitating or annoying in a way that most people don't. There are smells and tastes that I perceive differently than other people, too. I sometimes smell things that other people don't smell, or perceive strong emotions as odors. And I like to eat raw garlic...
Ian Johnson
In the absence of language, I was picking up on the emotional and social dynamics with possibly more acuity than a non-autistic person would. I have noticed this before. If I had been both willing and able to follow the conversation, I doubt I would have picked up on those other things. And I doubt that the other things are what are measured when non-autistic people try to measure autistic people's "social awareness".
A tendency to focus on details at the expense of configural information, 'weak coherence', has been proposed as a cognitive style in autism. In the present study we tested whether weak coherence might be the result of executive dysfunction, by testing clinical groups known to show deficits on tests of executive control.
Rhonda Booth et al
A. Bertone, L. Mottron
Eight low-functioning and non-verbal children with autism were presented with a modified version of the 'still face' paradigm (still face/imitative interaction/still face) performed by a stranger. The children's reactions illustrate the development of expectancies concerning human social behaviour. While they ignored the stranger and did not show any concern about her odd behaviour during the first still episode, they all focused on the adult during the second still episode. In this episode, they exhibited a mixed social pattern of positive overtures and negative emotional expressions which resembles the still face effect found in normally developing infants. These findings suggest that low-functioning children with autism are able to integrate their previous experience with a partner and detect social contingency, but that they are not able to form a generalized expectancy for social contingency in human beings with whom they have not yet had contact. This may explain why they generally ignore strangers.
Jacqueline Nadel et al
The authors propose that an individual's superior ability to detect, match, and reproduce simple visual elements allows them to perform better in tasks relying on detection and graphic reproduction of visual elements that are included in a map. Individuals with autism appear to discriminate, detect, and memorize simple visual patterns better than typical individuals, which may account for their superior performance in visual-spatial tasks that rely on recognizing and memorizing landmarks or detecting similarities between a map and landmark features. Thus, in non-social settings, children with HFA and Asperger syndrome have superior spatial abilities than typically developing individuals, which has been seen in other similar studies of visual-spatial tests in these individuals.
MJ Caron, L Mottron, C Rainville, S Chouinard
It appeared that the reaction times of the in-patient group were about two times as slow as the norm group in the difficult cognitive condition, which is indicative for a divided attention problem.
Hans Bogte et al
This study examined the effect of exemplar typicality on reaction time and accuracy of categorization. High-functioning children (age 9-12), adolescents (age 13-16), and adults with autism (age 17-48) and matched controls were tested in a category verification procedure. All groups showed improved processing throughout the lifespan for typical and somewhat typical category exemplars. However, individuals with autism responded more slowly than matched controls to atypical exemplars at all ages. The results are discussed in terms of potential differences in the type of processing that may be required for categorizing typical and atypical category exemplars. Parallels are also drawn to the results of previous studies on face processing in individuals with autism.
Holly Zajac Gastgeb et al
People in the general population are typically very poor at detecting changes in pictures of complex scenes. The degree of this 'change blindness', however, varies with the content of the scene: when an object is semantically important or contextually inappropriate, people may be more effective at detecting changes. Two experiments investigated change blindness in people with autism, who are known from previous research to be efficient in detecting features yet poor at processing stimuli for meaning and context. The first experiment measured the effect of semantic information while the second investigated the role of context in directing attention. In each task, participants detected the dissimilarity between pairs of images. Both groups showed a main effect of image type in both experimental tasks, showing that their attention was directed to semantically meaningful and contextually inappropriate items. However, the autistic group also showed a greater difficulty detecting changes to semantically marginal items in the first experiment. Conclusions point to a normal selection of items for attention in people with autism spectrum disorders, although this may be combined with difficulty switching or disengaging attention.
S. Fletcher Watson et al
Social stereotypes provide a cognitively "inexpensive" if often inaccurate way to predict the behavior of others. We found that in spite of autistic children's profound impairment in the ability to predict behavior on the basis of an individual's mental state, they were just as likely as young normal children to use stereotypes to predict outcomes of novel situations. This finding is surprising only if one assumes that the ability to explain the behavior of others relies on a single mechanism. Our findings suggest that there are two distinct cognitive capacities, one that makes sense of others' behavior in terms of psychological states (Theory of Mind) and another in terms of social group membership (Naïve Sociology). Theory of Mind but not Naive Sociology is impaired in autism. This is a hitherto unsuspected islet of social ability in autism.
awrence Hirschfeld, Elizabeth Bartmess, Sarah White, Uta Frith
Does movement of the eyes in one or another direction function as an automatic attentional cue to a location of interest? Two experiments explored the directional movement of the eyes in a full face for speed of detection of an aftercoming location target in young people with autism and in control participants.
John Swettenham et al
Innate modularity is the big question for cognitive neuroscience. One proposal is that a 'theory of mind' is a species-specific (human) example of an innate module. The evidence from the genetic, neurodevelopmental, psychiatric condition of autism is considered, to examine if the innate modularity claim is justified. At the opposite extreme, explanations of autism in terms of deficits in a general learning mechanism are considered. It is concluded that both of these extreme positions may be untenable, and instead there may be some justification for an intermediate model of social perception: minimalist innate modularity.
Simon Baron-Cohen
Autism is a developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed when children reach their third or fourth year. Although the full range of symptoms does not appear until this gae, parents are often aware of difficulties much earlier in their childs development. Of the early difficulties reported, one of the most predictive for diagnosis of autism is the impairment in joint attention - the ability to coordinate attention between people and objects. This research investigates the relationship between this problem and the more basic difficulty of orienting attention to people.
Sue Leekam
Early imitation is not related to gaze following. Instead, auditory and visual attention were related to gaze following. Infants tended to pass gaze following first, then auditory attention, and then visual attention.
M.L. Gattis
An experiment was devised to test the empathising-systemising (E-S) theory of autism. Three groups of participants took part in the study: males with Asperger Syndrome (AS) (n = 18), males without AS, (n = 44) and females from the general population (n = 45). Each participant completed two tasks: one that involved empathising and another that involved systemising. On the empathising task, females scored significantly higher than control males who in turn scored higher than males with AS. Conversely, females scored significantly lower than both male groups on the systemising task, who did not differ significantly from each other. These results are in line with both the E-S theory of autism and the 'extreme male brain' theory of autism. Alternative explanations of the results are also explored, including an interpretation through the idea of open and closed systems.
J. Lawson, S. Baron-Cohen, S. Wheelwright
S. Baron-Cohen, S. Wheelwright, J. Lawson, R. Griffin, C. Ashwin, J. Billington, B. Chakrabarti
Normative-IQ individuals with autism are capable of solving explicit social cognitive problems at a level that is not matched by their ability to meet the demands of everyday social situations. The magnitude of this discrepancy is now being documented through newer techniques such as eye tracking, which allows us to see and measure how individuals with autism search for meaning when presented with naturalistic social scenes.
Ami Klin et al
Visuo-perceptual processing in autism is characterized by intact or enhanced performance on static spatial tasks and inferior performance on dynamic tasks, suggesting a deficit of dorsal visual stream processing in autism. However, previous findings by Bertone et al. indicate that neuro-integrative mechanisms used to detect complex motion, rather than motion perception per se, may be impaired in autism. We present here the first demonstration of concurrent enhanced and decreased performance in autism on the same visuo-spatial static task, wherein the only factor dichotomizing performance was the neural complexity required to discriminate grating orientation. The ability of persons with autism was found to be superior for identifying the orientation of simple, luminance-defined (or first-order) gratings but inferior for complex, texture-defined (or second-order) gratings. Using a flicker contrast sensitivity task, we demonstrated that this finding is probably not due to abnormal information processing at a sub-cortical level (magnocellular and parvocellular functioning). Together, these findings are interpreted as a clear indication of altered low-level perceptual information processing in autism, and confirm that the deficits and assets observed in autistic visual perception are contingent on the complexity of the neural network required to process a given type of visual stimulus. We suggest that atypical neural connectivity, resulting in enhanced lateral inhibition, may account for both enhanced and decreased low-level information processing in autism.
A. Bertone, L. Mottron
Visuo-perceptual processing in autism is characterized by intact or enhanced performance on static spatial tasks and inferior performance on dynamic tasks, suggesting a deficit of dorsal visual stream processing in autism. However, previous findings by Bertone et al. indicate that neuro-integrative mechanisms used to detect complex motion, rather than motion perception per se, may be impaired in autism. We present here the first demonstration of concurrent enhanced and decreased performance in autism on the same visuo-spatial static task, wherein the only factor dichotomizing performance was the neural complexity required to discriminate grating orientation. The ability of persons with autism was found to be superior for identifying the orientation of simple, luminance-defined (or first-order) gratings but inferior for complex, texture-defined (or second-order) gratings. Using a flicker contrast sensitivity task, we demonstrated that this finding is probably not due to abnormal information processing at a sub-cortical level (magnocellular and parvocellular functioning). Together, these findings are interpreted as a clear indication of altered low-level perceptual information processing in autism, and confirm that the deficits and assets observed in autistic visual perception are contingent on the complexity of the neural network required to process a given type of visual stimulus. We suggest that atypical neural connectivity, resulting in enhanced lateral inhibition, may account for both enhanced and decreased low-level information processing in autism.
L. Mottron et al
High-functioning adults with autism and control adults were tested on a perceptual learning task that compared discrimination performance on familiar and novel stimuli. Control adults were better able to discriminate familiar than novel stimuli--the perceptual learning effect. No perceptual learning effect was observed in adults with autism although they discriminated the novel stimuli significantly better than control adults. This enhanced discrimination learning about novel, but not familiar, stimuli in autism is discussed in relation to two current hypotheses of information processing in autism--weak central coherence and reduced attention-switching--and a new third hypothesis, which suggests that features held in common between stimuli are processed poorly and features unique to a stimulus are processed well in autism.
K. Plaisted, M. O'Riordan, S. Baron-Cohen
Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind.
Leda Cosmides, John Tooby
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Richard Griffin, Lawson, Hill
In summary, this chapter has reviewed both the early mindblindness theory of autism, and the more recent extensions of these: the empathising-systemising theory, and the extreme male brain theory, of autism. The first of these extensions addresses a problem that the early theory had, namely, needing to also account for the obsessional features of autism. The second of these may help explain the marked sex ratio in autism and throw light on the biological basis of autism. Both of these extensions lead to new predictions when contrasted with other cognitive developmental theories of this condition, and illustrate some of the progress that is being made in this part of the field of developmental psychopathology.
Simon Baron-Cohen et al
Both autism and schizophrenia involve difficulties in comprehending mental states (mentalising), as measured by now-standard tests such as false-belief tests and story-sequencing.
Gregory Currie
Nurit Yirmiya et al
Why then do autistics have such difficulty in understanding and producing narratives involving people who act for reasons? Perhaps this is explained by an inability to recognise that there are other perspectives.
Daniel Hutto
Many philosophers and cognitive scientists claim that our everyday or 'folk' understanding of mental states constitutes a theory of mind. That theory is widely called 'folk psychology' (sometimes 'commonsense' psychology).
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Human beings are able to use the resources of their own minds to simulate the psychological causes of the behavior of others, typically by making decisions within a pretend context.
Robert Gordon
The theory of weak central coherence 'starts working' at the next stage of the process of perception when gestalt perception inevitably leads to distortions and fragmentation, in order to limit the amount of information to be processed.
Olga Bogdashina
Whilst normal processing has been found to be characterised by a global advantage, autism as been characterised as a bias towards local processing. Typically this has been assessed using global/local stimuli for which a place relationship holds between local elements. The present study examined the perception of gestalt stimuli for which nature relationships hold between the local elements.
Mark J. Brosnan et al
This review has touched on selected hot topic issues in autism research. There are other exciting developments in the field, including advances in neuroimaging and genetics. Such advances notwithstanding, an understanding of the social and cognitive features of autism reviewed here has great importance. For example, research in our laboratory is focused on identifying factors that may underlie the JA deficit in autism. A better understanding of these factors would improve predictions about the presentation of the disorder in early infancy, as well as better target interventions on pivotal skills and behaviors. In addition to implications for research, concepts such as JA, ToM, EF, and central coherence can help health care providers develop a fuller picture of both the strengths and impairments that characterize autism spectrum disorders. This can help providers better understand autism not as a collection of isolated symptoms, but as a description of a population of children with syndrome-specific strengths and weakness.
Stephen J. Sheinkopf
Four aspects seem core. The social aspect reigns almost supremely in accounts of autism concerned with diagnosis and treatment; the perception aspect, central in self-reports of high-functioning people with autism; narrative and literalness.
Hanneke de Jaegher
We see the outline of a natural structure or mechanism in the mind -- namely, we see the existence in the normal mind of a mechanism for mindreading, brought into sharp relief by its absence in degrees in children with autism.
Simon Baron-Cohen
Childhood pretend play and adult creative thinking and problem-solving share the same cognitive basis, namely the capacity to generate an initial supposition, and to think and reason within its scope.
Peter Carruthers
In autism, when failures of neural connectivity impede narrative linkage, when each element of a scene or a story exists in isolation, the surrounding world can seem threateningly intractable. Autistic withdrawal into repetitive behaviours and scripted interactions can be read as an effort to gain control over such arbitrariness and unpredictability. In this regard, people with autism differ from other human beings only in the degree of concreteness with which this problem of control is approached: the tension between our mortal nature and our capacity to contemplate the eternal makes us desperate to impute narrative order and authorial intent in a universe where there may be only chaos and arbitrariness, and is what drives us as artists and scientists to construct themes within which our observations and experiences can be represented, and therefore realised. In this regard, people with autism can be described as "human, but more so" - for we all are driven by the same desperation to control or at least to predict what is going to happen to us, to keep chaos, entropy, and death at bay. The study of autism has much to tell us about theories of normal neural and psychological development, and about the nature of human cognition and literary representation.
Matthew Belmonte
This paper presents evidence for two kinds of subtypes in autism that are defined on the basis of language profiles and on the basis of cognitive profiles.
Helen Tager-Flusberg, Robert Joseph
idiolect n. : the linguistic system of one person, differing in some details from that of all other speakers of the same dialect or language
Tom Stafford
The present study sought to examine the specificity, developmental correlates, nature and pervasiveness of imitation deficits very early in the development of autism. Subjects were 24 children with autism (mean age 34 months), 18 children with fragile X syndrome, 20 children with other developmental disorders, and 15 typically-developing children. Tasks included manual, oral-facial, and object oriented imitations, developmental measures, joint attention ability, and motor abilities. Children with autism were found to be significantly more impaired in overall imitation abilities, oral-facial imitation, and imitations of actions on objects than children in all of the other groups. Imitation skills of young children with fragile X syndrome were strongly influenced by the absence or presence of symptoms of autism. For children with autism, imitation skills were strongly correlated with autistic symptoms and joint attention, even when controlling for developmental level. For comparison groups, imitation was related to other developmental abilities including play, language, and visual spatial skills. Neither motor functioning nor social responsivity accounted for a significant amount of variance in imitation scores, when controlling for overall developmental level, which accounted for much of the variation in imitation ability. Simple imitation skills were differentially impaired in young children with autism, and lack of social cooperation did not account for their poor performance. In autism, imitation skills clustered with dyadic and triadic social interactions and overall developmental level, but were not related to play or language development. For comparison children, all these areas were inter-related. Hypotheses about a specific dyspraxic deficit underlying the imitation performance in autism were not supported.
Sally Rogers et al
Engagement is a core component of effective educational programs for children with autism. Analysis of 711 naturalistic goal-directed classroom behaviors of four school-age children with autism and four comparable children with Down syndrome (DS) was conducted. The definition of engagement was expanded to include child compliance and congruence. A main finding was both child and environmental factors influenced type of engagement. Children with DS produced 20% more goal-directed behaviors that were both congruent and compliant compared to children with autism. Large group instruction was associated with less congruent engagement but more compliant engagement for children with autism. These findings suggest specific types of engagement which may lead to advances in developing evidence-based practices for specific developmental disorders.
LA Ruble et al
In this essay, we review developments in infancy research and cognitive neuroscience. We follow each selective review with a critical analysis, in an attempt to show how thinking in these fields follows or diverges from Dennett's influential intentional stance. We close by attempting to incorporate some of these findings into Dennett's larger program of explaining our kind of mind. First, however, we attempt to clarify some of the differences between the intentional stance, folk psychology, and theory of mind, as we see them.
Richard Griffin, Simon Baron-Cohen
The present study investigated the influence of developmental level on interaction and imitation in infants and young children with autism on the basis of family videos and filmed consultation. The sample comprised 18 children with autism divided into groups according to their developmental quotient (DQ > 50 and DQ < 50). A quantitative evaluation was performed on video observations at four periods (10-12 months, 16-18 months, 24-26 months, after 4 years) using scales appropriate for the evaluation of interaction and imitation impairments. The findings showed that, at a very early age, infants later diagnosed as having autistic disorder show different intensities of interaction and imitation deficits according to developmental level.
Christine Receveur et al
If thoughts and concepts can exist in creatures that do not use language, then Davidson's argument that animals cannot have thoughts because they lack language is unsound.
Kristin Andrews
If you look at autism from the outside and you remain an outsider, you may see many bizarre things: autistic children repeat things literally, they imitate our behaviours literally, they have repetitive behaviours, they make very concrete associations instead of thinking in a flexible way, they have difficulties in understanding our emotions. You may say, from time to time, that this child is being naughty: he doesn't do what I ask him to do. But if you really try to get inside the child's mind, to see the world through his eyes, you very often see that it is not that he does not want to do what you want but that he understands the world differently. He makes hypotheses.
Adam Feinstein
These findings support the argument that cognitive development is domain-specific and highlight the need for further research in this area.
Lynne M. Binnie and Joanne M. Williams
Results demonstrated that children with autism preferred to employ physical causality when reasoning about novel physical and psychological events. Furthermore, their performance on a multiple-choice task confirmed their impairment in intuitive psychology whilst highlighting a superior ability to reason about physical phenomena in relation to all other comparison groups.
Lynne Binnie et al
The re-description of social information into basic information-processing computations may prove to be a powerful tool. We mention examples in the context of autism, but it is easy to see how the logic can generalize to typical development.
Diego Fernandez-Duque, Jodie A. Baird
Throughout this chapter I consider the extent to which autism provides a window onto alternative ways in which mind and language may become connected over the course of development.
Helen Tager-Flusberg
Evidence from the Global Integration test suggests that in comparison to their normal controls the clinical groups were less able to integrate sentences with each other and with the theme to provide the most coherent arrangement of the sentences.
Therese Jolliffe, Simon Baron-Cohen
Results suggest that individuals with an autism spectrum condition are impaired in achieving local coherence, and they have a preference not to strive for coherence unless instructed to do so, or unless they make a conscious decision to do so.
Therese Jolliffe, Simon Baron-Cohen
In the present study, copying tasks were used to assess hierarchical aspects of visual perception in a group of 10 nonsavant autistic individuals with normal intelligence. In Experiment 1, the hierarchical order of graphic construction and the constancy of this order were measured for the copying of objects and nonobjects. In comparison to control participants, autistic individuals produced more local features at the start of the copying. However, they did not differ from controls with respect to graphic constancy. Experiment 2 measured the effect of geometrical impossibility on the copying of figures. Results revealed that autistic individuals were less affected by figure impossibility than were controls. Therefore, these experiments seem to support the notion of a local bias for visual information processing in individuals with autism. Two interpretations are proposed to account for this effect. According to the hierarchical deficit hypothesis, individuals with autism do not manifest the normal global bias in perceiving scenes and objects. Alternatively, the executive function hypothesis suggests that autism brings about limitations in the complexity of information that can be manipulated in short-term visual memory during graphic planning.
L. Mottron et al
According to predictions from the Weak Central Coherence theory for perceptual processing, persons with autism should display a tendency to focus on minute details rather than on a more general picture. However, the evidence for this theory is not consistent with findings of an enhanced detection of local targets, but a typical global bias. Adolescents with high-functioning autism and CA- (approximately 15 years) and IQ- (approximately 105-110) matched typically developing adolescents were administered a series of global-local visual tasks, including a traditional task of hierarchical processing, three tasks of configural processing, and a disembedding task that involved rapid perceptual processing. No group differences were found on either the traditional task of hierarchical processing or on tasks of configural processing. However, group differences were found on the disembedding task as the search for embedded, in relation to isolated stimuli, was slower for the typically developing adolescents but similar for the participants with autism. These findings are consistent with other reports of superior performance in detecting embedded figures, but typical performance in global and configural processing among persons with high-functioning autism. Thus, the notions of local bias and global impairment that are part of WCC may need to be reexamined.
Laurent Mottron et al
We describe 3 cases of very high functioning individuals with Asperger Syndrome, two of whom are university students (in physics and computer science, respectively), and the third a professor of mathematics, and winner of the Field Medal (equivalent to the Nobel Prize). The interest in these cases is whether there is a social-cognitive deficit, given their self-evident academic achievements. Such cases provide a rare opportunity to test for dissociations of cognitive skills, since these cases possess exceptionally high ability. These 3 individuals were given one test of folk psychology, one test of folk physics, and one test of executive function. All three cases showed deficits on the adult level 'theory of mind' (folk psychology) test involving reading mental states from photographs of the eyes, whilst showing no deficits on a control task of judging gender from the same photographs. In addition, all 3 cases were at ceiling on the test of folk physics, and on the most complex test of executive function (the Tower of Hanoi). 14 control subjects clarified normative performance on the folk psychology and folk physics tests. These results strongly suggest theory of mind (folk psychology) is independent of both IQ, executive function, and reasoning about the physical world.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, V. Stone, Rutherford
In this study, expert programmers were directly questioned regarding the nature of their mental representations while they were engaged in a design task.
Marian Petre, Alan Blackwell
A change in attitude might confer a new and special esteem on those who, like William Hamilton, have arguably contributed the most of lasting worth to our species as a whole through their work in engineering, technology, and science.
Christopher Badcock
People with the capacity for deep concentration have a great capacity to learn skills which are beyond the broad mind. The forager mind, insensitive to the way everybody knows things should be done, creates the paradigm transforming technologies.
Dinah Murray, Mike Lesser
The model is based on the concept of an interest. The word is used with its everyday meaning. It has however the implication of concern rather than advantage, and it covers all deployment of attention, from desire to wonder.
Mike Lesser, Dinah Murray
Researches have found that monkeys will "pay" juice rewards to see images of high-ranking monkeys or female hindquarters. They say their research technique offers a rigorous laboratory approach to studying the "social machinery" of the brain and how this machinery goes tragically awry in autism -- a disease that afflicts more than a million Americans and is the fastest growing developmental disorder.
Duke University Medical Center
In the normal range of attentional distribution great variety is to be found both between people and within individuals at different times. People who attract a diagnosis of autism tend to be at the extreme of the human spectrum in which people have few to very few deep and unshakeable interests: they are monotropic. The opposite of monotropic is less deep, but more broadly distributed, more flexible, polytropic, attention patterns. In different situations deeper attention in contrast with more thinly spread attention will function differently. We believe that in various ways the monotropic disposition underlies the involuntary disclosures and social disasters which attract autism spectrum diagnoses.
Dinah Murray, Mike Lesser
Recent advances in the cognitive neuroscience of action have considerably enlarged our understanding of human motor cognition. In particular, the activity of the mirror system, first discovered in the brain of non-human primates, provides an observer with the understanding of a perceived action by means of the motor simulation of the agent's observed movements. This discovery has raised the prospects of a “motor theory of social cognition”. Human social cognition includes the ability to mindread, which in turn plays a crucial role in human communication. Thus, many motor theorists of social cognition try to bridge the gap between human motor cognition and human mindreading by endorsing a simulation account of human mindreading. We are skeptical about both the simulation account of human mindreading and the prospects of a motor theory of social cognition. As we shall argue in the first section of this paper, much of our skepticism about the simulation account of human mindreading stems from the fact that the concept of simulation involved in simulation accounts of human mindreading so far is a mongrel concept. The rest of the paper will be devoted to explaining why we are skeptical about the prospects of a motor theory of social cognition.
Pierre Jacob, Marc Jeannerod
Raven's Progressive Matrices, Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, and Wechsler Scales are the instruments frequently used to measure intelligence in autistics. However, these instruments have been normalized for the typical population, not for autistics. Mottron, Dawson, Berthiere and Soulieres found peaks of ability in RPM and PPVTin autistic and Asperger groups relative to Wechsler PIQ and VIQ, respectively. Because no comparison with typical controls were made, these findings may have been artifacts of how PPVT and RPM are normed. PPVT is known to over- or under-estimate Wechsler IQ, depending on factors such as level of performance. Also, cautions with respect to norms in RPM has been urged. Purpose: To compare autistic, AS and typical groups in their performance on Wechsler scales, PPVT and RPM. Implications for the nature of autistic intelligence will be examined... We speculate that the results are at odds with theories proposing the disorganization of the autistic brain. While it may be argued that real-world and RPM complexity are of different magnitudes, this cannot explain the poor relative performance of of non-autistics vs. autistics on this test of fluid intelligence. Either many well-established theories of intelligence, and of the relative roles of cognitive processes, are flawed; or autistic intelligence is different from non-autistic intelligence.
Michelle Dawson, Laurent Mottron, et al
The neurobiological systems that mediate the basic emotions are beginning to be understood. They appear to be constituted of genetically coded, but experientially refined executive circuits situated in subcortical ar- eas of the brain which can coordinate the behavioral, physiological and psychological processes that need to be recruited to cope with a variety of survival need (i.e., they signal evolutionary fitness issues). These birthrights allow newborn organisms to begin navigating the complexities of the world and to learn about the values and contingencies of the environment. some of these systems have been identified and characterized using modern neuroscientific and psychobiological tools. The most fundamental emotional systems can now be defined by the functional psychobiological characteristics of the underlying Circuitries --- characteristics which help the organism coordinate behavioral, physiological and psychological aspects of emotionality, including the valenced affective feeling states that provide fundamental values for the guidance of behavior. The various emotional circuits are coordinated by different neuropeptides, and the arousal of each system may generate distinct affective/neu- rodynamic states and imbalances may lead to various psychiatric disorders. The aim of this essay is to discuss the underlying conceptual issues that must be addressed for additional progress in understanding the nature of primary process affective consciousness.
Jaak Panksepp
Raymond Romancyzk, director of Binghamton University's Institute for Child Development, is heading up an intensive research project to learn how children - with and without autism - interact with the world around them. Using a combination of a state-of-the-art eye tracking system, miniaturized psychophysiological monitoring and multiple computers for high-speed processing, Romancyzk and his team are able to ask questions that could help answer how individuals with autism process information and stimuli from the world around them.
Medical Research News
Although ASCs are disabling in the social world, hyper-systemizing can result in abilities in areas that are systemizable. For many people with ASC, hyper-systemizing never moves beyond phase 1, the massive collection of facts and observations (eg, lists of trains and their departure times, watching the spin-cycle of a washing machine), or phases 2 and 3, massive repetition of behavior (eg, spinning a plate or the wheels of a toy car). But for those who go beyond phase 3 to identify a law or a pattern in the data (phases 4 and 5), this can constitute original insight. In this sense, it is likely that the genes for increased systemizing have made remarkable contributions to human history.
Simon Baron-Cohen
A poor intuitive sense of time is not just another problem with which people with autism, and their carers, have to cope, but is fundamental cause of some of the key impairments which characterise autism.
Jill Boucher
First, the stages of development observed in Nonverbal Thinking, Communication, Imitation, and Play are described. Second, sample activities have also been included of teaching techniques that can be adapted to these different developmental levels.
Kerry Hogan
(Autistic) unwillingness to deviate from routine procedures, inability to distinguish essential facts from details, which seem insignificant for a normal individual, are correlated with the mechanism to formalize the notion of inertia and monotonicity.
Boris Galitsky
My patients' increase in intellectual understanding of the alternative viewpoint in the literary realm helps them function better in the real world. I have yet to determine whether such an understanding leads to the capacity for empathy.
Alexandra Helper
Nurit Yirmiya et al
Two tasks were used to assess the processing of whole versus parts of objects in a group of high-functioning children and adolescents with autism (N = 11) and a comparison group of typically developing peers (N = 11) matched for chronological age and IQ. In the first task, only the children with autism showed a global advantage, and the two groups showed similar interference between levels. In the second task, the children with autism, despite longer RTs, showed similar performance to the comparison group with regard to the effect of goodness on visual parsing. Contrary to expectations based on the central coherence and hierarchisation deficit theories, these findings indicate intact holistic processing among persons with autism. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to apparently discrepant evidence from other studies.
L. Mottron et al
The results of our categorization experiment provide evidence against the idea that people with autism have an enhanced ability to discriminate between objects, contrary to predictions made by several autism researchers... (W)e have suggested a novel hypothesis concerning the cause of generalization difficulties in autism: that of coding objects on fewer dimensions than controls in circumstances in which such a strategy can be effective.
Jon Brock et al
In behavioural experiments, people with autism show a selective impairment in shifting attention rapidly between different sensory channels. Understanding what causes these abnormalities requires study of the underlying physiology
Matthew Belmonte
Dr. Mottron and Ms. Dawson are colleagues, having co-authored six (and counting) papers published in specialized journals such as Brain, Neuropsychology and the Journal of Autism and Behavioral Disorders, research that is making waves in both the scientific and autism communities. Their latest collaboration, a study presented Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in St. Louis, is the most controversial yet: That people with autism -- most of whom are classified as of low intelligence or mentally retarded -- are a lot smarter than anyone ever imagined.
Globe and Mail
Joint attention, a foundational nonverbal social-communicative milestone that fails to develop naturally in autism, was promoted for three toddlers with early-identified autism through a parent-mediated, developmentally grounded, researcher-guided intervention model. A multiple baseline design compared child performance across four phases of intervention: focusing on faces, turn-taking, responding to joint attention, and initiating joint attention. All toddlers improved performance and two showed repeated engagement in joint attention, supporting the effectiveness of developmentally appropriate methods that build on the parent-child relationship. A complementary qualitative analysis explored family challenges, parent resilience, and variables that may have influenced outcomes. Intervention models appropriate for toddlers with autism are needed as improved early identification efforts bring younger children into early intervention services.
H.H. Schertz et al
Whenever we, as researchers, write about autistics or Jews or women, we must be cognizant that we are discussing and describing members of our society. Indeed, I submit that whenever we write for the public, we must be more not less circumspect. We can't depend on stereotype, a Hollywood movie, or a casual conversation with a colleague to provide us with knowledge of the phenotypes that NIH cares about. Instead, we must research the implication of our findings with the same rigor that we research our basic phenomena. Relevance is a prized commodity these days, but let's not buy relevance at the cost of scientific inaccuracy and societal stigma.
Morton Ann Gernsbacher
I am always looking for something to do without having to give myself a reason for doing it. I like to laugh, for instance, but when someone asks me why I am laughing, the ghost of reason rears its ugly head.
Brian Henson
A central characteristic of autism might be an inability to integrate facets of information. When sorting stimuli, those with autism might attend to surface features in preference to deeper association. They might sort according to a single property, in preference to general family resemblance of stimuli involving multiple properties. If so, this would reveal a tendency not to integrate input with background knowledge in categorization. A similar characteristic might be apparent in judging object properties.
Peter Mitchell
Domain specificity of cognitive systems is suggested by the existence of children in whom one or more domains are spared or impaired.
Maryan Waltman
During early development, significant changes occur in the neural regions that subserve attention and related skills. Although preschoolers typically have difficulty performing continuous performance tests, it is not clear if this is primarily due to an inability to selectively respond or an inability to maintain attention. A group of 52 children between 3.5 and 5.5 years of age performed 2 vigilance-type reaction time tasks. The tasks included short duration, continuously presented visual stimuli across several short blocks. Among the children under 4.5 years of age, 46% were unable to coordinate the necessary task demands, and those who could made significantly more omission errors than the older children. Active engagement was high during the reaction time tasks for all children. These results suggest that the skills necessary for vigilance tasks, particularly speeded response initiation and response selection, are still emerging during the preschool years but can be adequately measured after 4.5 years of age.
Natacha Akshoomoff
Selective attention theories have suggested that individuals have a tendency to orient themselves toward, or process information from only one part of the environment with the exclusion of other parts.
Iris Beneli
The A'posteriori model can focus only upon one source of information at any one time. This is serial processing. An autistic person has to make a decision about what they should concentrate upon or risk being overwhelmed with too much information.
Andrew Walker
Evidence suggests that individuals with autism may not attend to contextual information (conceptual or perceptual) when processing stimuli. We investigated the role of prior knowledge and perspective cues when judging the shape of a slanted circle in individuals with and without autism. Individuals adjusted a shape on a computer screen to appear the same as a slanted circle. Participants in all groups (autistic, moderate learning difficulties, children aged 9 years and adults) exaggerated circularity. Strikingly, however, individuals with autism were unique in exaggerating circularity significantly far less when perspective cues surrounding the slanted circle were eliminated. Prior knowledge that the shape was a slanted circle provoked a strong exaggeration effect in participants without autism, but not in those with autism. Perhaps classifying the stimulus as a 'circle' was sufficient to provoke a strong exaggeration effect in those without (but not with) autism. In this domain, we show that perception in autism may be less influenced by prior knowledge, and therefore less 'top-down'.
Danielle Ropar, Peter Mitchell
Stress behaviors, number of clues needed before reacting, hyper- and hypo-sensitivity, withdrawal, sensory overload and shutdown, social relations, trot/jog.
The study showed that the abstract formalism of reasoning about mental states, intended to model the human behavior by a technical system, found an emergent application in the simulation of human agents.
Boris Galitsky
Results revealed that children with ASD responded to a smaller proportion of items and required more trials to orient than control groups across social and nonsocial dimensions of the DOT. Group x dimension interactions were not statistically significant. No group differences were found for latency to orient for either dimension. Within the ASD group, total DOT scores were associated with responding to joint attention, expressive language, and autism severity. Social orienting was also associated with autism severity, while nonsocial orienting was associated with responding to joint attention and expressive language. Results suggest that very young children with autism demonstrate global impairments in orienting, rather than specific social impairments and suggest the possible impact of orienting impairments on the development of language skills and autism symptoms.
Lauren M. Turner
Human beings are social creatures. We crave social communication and suffer profoundly if temporarily isolated from society. So much so that punishment in most cultures involves some kind of isolation from others. Much of the brain must have evolved to deal with social interactions. We share many social competencies with other animal species: choosing a mate, competing with rivals, nurturing babies, making alliances and so on. Some aspects of social communication are thought to be unique to humans, for instance the desire to teach, the development of self awareness and awareness of others, and the ability to outwit others. Nevertheless, a few non-human species share some of these advanced social abilities in rudimentary form. In this report, we firstly try to identify the scope of social cognition and offer a definition. In the second section we describe recent research on the mechanisms of social cognition and its component processes in the brain. In the third section we discuss how pathology affects social cognition. our fourth section poses some burning questions from interactions in everyday life, which we hope can be solved in the next five to ten years.
Uta Frith, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
Children's understanding of the mind... for the past 20 years this has been the crucible for a lively and often heated debate on the nature of social-cognitive development and its role in children's developing confidence in interacting with others.
Charlie Lewis, Jeremy Carpendale
A phenomenon whereby a person focuses on only one aspect of an object or environment while ignoring other aspects. It is important to help them direct their attention to relevant aspects of an object or the environment.
Stephen Edelson
Therese Jolliffe, Simon Baron-Cohen
We report here the case study of a patient (E.C.) with an Asperger syndrome, or autism with quasinormal intelligence, who shows an outstanding ability for three-dimensional drawing of inanimate objects (savant syndrome). An assessment of the subsystems proposed in recent models of object recognition evidenced intact perceptual analysis and identification. The initial (or primal sketch), viewer-centered (or 2-1/2-D), or object-centered (3-D) representations and the recognition and name levels were functional. In contrast, E.C.'s pattern of performance in three different types of tasks converge to suggest an anomaly in the hierarchical organization of the local and global parts of a figure: a local interference effect in incongruent hierarchical visual stimuli, a deficit in relating local parts to global form information in impossible figures, and an absence of feature-grouping in graphic recall. The results are discussed in relation to normal visual perception and to current accounts of the savant syndrome in autism.
L. Mottron, S. Belleville
The performance of children with and without autism was compared in object-based positive and negative priming tasks within a visual search procedure. Object-based positive and negative priming effects were found in both groups of children. This result provides the first evidence for the activation of object-based representations during visual search task performance and further supports the notion that both excitatory and inhibitory guidance mechanisms are involved in target location in visual search. The children with autism were overall better than the typically developing children at visual search, thus replicating demonstrations of superior discrimination in autism. Furthermore, there was no difference between the magnitude of the positive nor the negative priming effects of the groups. This finding suggests that excitatory and inhibitory control operate comparably in autism and normal development. These results are discussed in the light of the superior ability of individuals with autism to discriminate between items. More specifically, it is argued that superior discrimination in autism does not result from enhanced top-down excitatory and inhibitory control.
Michelle O'Riordan
Objective: Determine if existing norms for Wechsler, RPM and PPVT are actually equivalent in non-autistics, and in autistic children and adults. Design/Methods: Adults: 8 autistics and 17 Aspergers (AS) received WAIS-III+RPM, 5 autistics and 13 AS received WAIS-III+PPVT, and were compared to 19 non-autistic adults tested with the three instruments. Children: 41 autistics and 20 AS received WISC-III+RPM; 30 autistics and 20 AS received WISC-III+PPVT, and were compared to the test norms. Conclusions: Assessment of intelligence in PDDs results in dramatically different levels according to the test given. A significant proportion of low-functioning autistics move into the high-functioning range when tested with two specific instruments. These results have important consequences for matching strategies in empirical design, and in understanding autistic intelligence.
M. Dawson, L. Mottron, P. Jelenic, I. Soulières
Howe et al. suggest that most talents can be explained in terms of practice and other environmental effects, and only exceptionally by innate factors. This commentary provides an illustration of one such exception: performance on the Embedded Figures Test by people with autism and their relatives... Innate talents may exist in the sense that : (1) individual differences in a special ability may be partly genetic; and (2) some attributes are only possessed by a minority of individuals.
Simon Baron-Cohen
The current study follows a recent paper reporting that individuals with autism were just as susceptible to visual illusions as those without autism. The possibility that individual differences may account for the failure to replicate Happe's findings is explored by presenting a battery of visuospatial tasks thought to measure weak central coherence (embedded figures, block design, Rey complex figure test). Participants with autism were distinguished by relatively good performance on visuospatial tasks, though there was no superiority effect in those with Asperger's syndrome. Performance on the visuospatial battery did not significantly predict susceptibility to illusions in various participant groups, including those with autism and Asperger's syndrome. This suggests that perception of illusions and performance on visuospatial tasks may rely on different mechanisms. The implications for the theory of weak central coherence are discussed.
Danielle Ropar, Peter Mitchell
Perception of illusions and performance on visuo-spatial tasks may rely on different mechanisms.
Danielle Ropar, Peter Mitchell
Therese Jolliffe, Simon Baron-Cohen
Autists are, on average, worse on the Cognitive Flexibility Test, better on the Conjunctive Feature Search Test, and slower on the Cueing Test. You can try the three tests here; each of them takes only a few minutes.
Garriond's Asperger Syndrome Page
...we propose that the mechanisms which can give rise to 'weak central coherence' effects may be perceptual. More specifically, we propose that perception operates to enhance the representation of individual perceptual features but that this does not impact adversely on representations that involve integration of features.
Kate Plaisted et al
Recent developments in the field of autism are outlined. In particular, we review the findings of the three main neuro-cognitive theories of autism: theory-of-mind deficit, weak central coherence and executive dysfunction.
Elisabeth Hill, Uta Frith
The study investigated the recognition of standardized facial expressions of emotion (anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise) at a perceptual level (experiment 1) and at a semantic level (experiments 2 and 3) in children with autism (N= 20) and normally developing children (N= 20). Results revealed that children with autism were as able as controls to recognize all six emotions with different intensity levels, and that they made the same type of errors. These negative findings are discussed in relation to (1) previous data showing specific impairment in autism in recognizing the belief-based expression of surprise, (2) previous data showing specific impairment in autism in recognizing fear, and (3) the convergence of findings that individuals with autism, like patients with amygdala damage, pass a basic emotions recognition test but fail to recognize more complex stimuli involving the perception of faces or part of faces.
Fulvia Castelli
Teasing requires the ability to understand intention, nonliteral communication, pretense, and social context. Children with autism experience difficulty with such skills, and consequently, are expected to have difficulty with teasing. To better understand teasing concepts and behaviors, children with autism, their parents, and age and Verbal-IQ-matched comparison children and parents described concepts and experiences of teasing and engaged in a parent–child teasing interaction. The teasing of children with autism was less playful and provocative and focused less on social norms than that of comparison children. Similarly, parents of children with autism teased in less playful ways. Scores on a theory of mind task accounted for several of the observed differences. Discussion focused on the importance of understanding social context and playful behavior during teasing.
Erin A. Heerey et al
By the time students reach secondary school age it may be very difficult, if not futile, to identify single dimensions of cognition that cause learning problems.
Melvin Levine, Carl Swartz
The combined activation of the middle frontal gyrus and the supramarginal gyrus is related to the executive control of goal-setting in planned behavior.
C. Richard Clark, Gary F. Egan, Alexander McFarlane, Phillip Morris, Darren Weber, Cynon Sonkkilla, Jackie Marcina, H.J. Tochon-Danguy
Three classes of perceptual phenomena have repeatedly been associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): superior processing of fine detail (local structure), either inferior processing of overall/global structure or an ability to ignore disruptive global/contextual information, and impaired motion perception. This review evaluates the quality of the evidence bearing on these three phenomena. We argue that while superior local processing has been robustly demonstrated, conclusions about global processing cannot be definitively drawn from the experiments to date, which have generally not precluded observers using more local cues. Perception of moving stimuli is impaired in ASD, but explanations in terms of magnocellular/dorsal deficits do not appear to be sufficient. We suggest that abnormalities in the superior temporal sulcus (STS) may provide a neural basis for the range of motion-processing deficits observed in ASD, including biological motion perception. Such an explanation may also provide a link between perceptual abnormalities and specific deficits in social cognition associated with autism.
Steven Dakin, Uta Frith
The present research investigates visuospatial orienting in response to social and non-social stimuli in typically developing children and children with autism. The principle aims are to investigate whether children with autism are specifically impaired in orienting attention in the direction of seen gaze, and to investigate whether they have a general impairment in automatically and/or voluntarily orienting attention. These issues are of particular importance given previous evidence of joint attention deficits in autism and the potential consequences of such impairments for social development.
John Swettenham
The performance of eight adults diagnosed with Asperger syndrome was compared with the performance of a control group of adults on a range of perceptual tasks (the Block Design Task, the Embedded Figures Task, the Hierarchical Stimuli Task and the Impossible Figures Task). The tasks were selected in an attempt to test two models of perceptual deficit suggested to account for the pattern of perceptual performance typically associated with autistic spectrum disorders: the central coherence deficit model and the hierarchization deficit model. The aim of the investigation was to determine whether either model was appropriate as an explanation of perceptual skills amongst people with Asperger syndrome. Tentative support for the hierarchization deficit model was demonstrated.
Jacqui Rogers
Autistic children and typically developing control children were tested on two visual tasks, one involving grouping of small line elements into a global figure and the other involving perception of human activity portrayed in point-light animations. Performance of the two groups was equivalent on the figure task, but autistic children were significantly impaired on the biological motion task. This latter deficit may be related to the impaired social skills characteristic of autism, and we speculate that this deficit may implicate abnormalities in brain areas mediating perception of human movement.
R. Blake et al
The current protocol can be used to examine selective attention. It has been used to acquire behavioral performance data in neurologically healthy normal control subjects and schizophrenic patients.
Matthias Tabert, Sylvie Chokron, Cheuk Tang, Tsechung Wei, Adam Brickman, Monte Buchsbaum
Individuals with autism show various signs of heightened abilities in visuo-spatial functioning. First, it is long-established that they excel on embedded figures and block design tests relative to comparison participants. Second, some evidence suggests that processing global features is affected by inappropriate processing of the constituent elements of a stimulus. Third, they are more accurate than comparison participants in judging the shape of a slanted circle in a context where ambient visual cues are eliminated. This suggests that their perception of the shape was less influenced by prior knowledge. Fourth, they are fast at searching for feature and conjunctive targets in a visual array. Contrary to earlier reports, however, they are susceptible to visual illusions. Also, they do show evidence of utilising prior knowledge when pairing a colour with an atypically coloured target. Accordingly, we conclude that there is something distinctive about autistic visuo-spatial functioning, but not necessarily in ways that are predicted by the 'weak central coherence' hypothesis.
Peter Mitchell, Danielle Ropar
Autistic people's world is a fragmented world. In the word of a person with autism : 'I compare autistic sight with the faceted vision of an insect: a host of different subtle details but all of it non-integrated.' (First part of page is in Chinese.)
This study investigated whether evidence for the weak central coherence theory could be specifically associated with a group of children with autism compared with normally developing children (n = 17 per group). Two tasks were employed, one involving visual illusions and the other verbal homophones. Both were based on tasks used in previous central coherence research. Incorporation of tasks involving the use of different domains (verbal versus visual) also enabled the investigation of claims that weak central coherence is a cross-domain processing style or deficit. The autistic group were found to be no different to the control group in performance on the visual illusions task. The autistic group made more errors than the normally developing group on the rare condition of the homophone task. However, analysis suggests this difference is mediated by verbal ability level and not diagnostic status per se. Theoretical implications and alternative explanations are discussed.
James A. Hoy et al
Groundbreaking research in the controversial field of behavioral genetics suggests that the factors leading an individual to pursue any occupation, including engineering, cannot be explained as a simple tug of war between "nature" and "nurture." The researchers are finding that vocational interests are primarily the products of genetics and unique, or nonshared, environmental factors, with shared family experiences holding less sway. The research may indicate why some individuals are predisposed to careers in engineering. It might also explain the high occurrence of autism in the families of engineers.
Debra Schiff, EE Times
These results confirm findings using the frog story narratives, indicating impairments in narrative organization and the linguistic encoding of evaluation.
Molly Losh, David Sobel, Lisa Capps
Simon Baron-Cohen
Joint attention ability was positively associated with language gains and (lower) social and communication symptoms, and imitation ability was also positively associated with later language. Some specificity in the association between different aspects of joint attention behaviours and outcome was found: declarative, triadic gaze switching predicted language and symptom severity but imperative, dyadic eye contact behaviours did not. Further, although joint attention was associated with later social and language symptoms it was unrelated to repetitive and stereotyped symptoms, suggesting the latter may have a separate developmental trajectory.
Tony Charman

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