August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Free
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
Global/Local Visual Processing in Autism: Not a Disability, but a Disinclination
Author Affiliations
  • Kami Koldewyn
    Brain and Cognitive Sciences, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Yuhong Jiang
    Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • Sarah Weigelt
    Brain and Cognitive Sciences, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Nancy Kanwisher
    Brain and Cognitive Sciences, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 1355. doi:10.1167/12.9.1355
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      Kami Koldewyn, Yuhong Jiang, Sarah Weigelt, Nancy Kanwisher; Global/Local Visual Processing in Autism: Not a Disability, but a Disinclination. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):1355. doi: 10.1167/12.9.1355.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Abstract

Integrating disparate information into a coherent percept is a key cognitive skill contributing to sensory processing, communication and social interaction. According to widespread claims, global attention is characteristically impaired in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and may be at the root of other aspects of the cognitive phenotype of autism. Although these claims are common in the literature, the empirical evidence is actually quite mixed. Here we ask i) do individuals with ASD in fact process local and global visual information differently from typical individuals, and ii) do performance differences between ASD and typical individuals reflect a difference in ability or preference? To address these questions, we tested participants in two experiments that used hierarchical shapes such as a triangle made of squares (Navon, 1983). In Experiment 1, we asked participants to categorize such hierarchical stimuli, but gave no indication whether each stimulus should be categorized at the local or global level. In Experiment 2, we measured participants' ability to process the same stimuli at either the local or the global level by instructing them to focus on either the global or the local level in different task blocks. Experiment 1 allowed us to measure the default inclination of participants whereas Experiment 2 allowed us to measure the ability of participants when instructed. Here, we find that although children with autism show a stronger default preference to report local properties of a stimulus than do typically developing children when given a choice, their ability to process global properties when instructed to do so is unimpaired. These findings challenge prior claims that global processing is selectively impaired in autism and raise the broader question of whether other characteristics of autism may also reflect disinclinations rather than disabilities.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012

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