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Renita Almeida, J. Edwin Dickinson, Murray Maybery, Johanna Badcock, David Badcock; Enhanced global integration of closed contours in individuals with high levels of autistic traits. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):439. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/11.11.439.
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Individuals with autism are superior on visual search tasks such as the Embedded Figures Test (EFT) which require detecting a closed-contour shape from within a more complex structure. One suggestion is that they have a relatively weaker ability to perceive the global compared to local elements of a visual display, however others have argued for no global or ‘integrative’ deficit. The terms ‘local’ and ‘global’ have been given a broad range of meanings in the literature, but here we examine whether specific known global visual mechanisms are active in integrating deformed closed-contour shapes, like targets in the EFT. We tested two groups of individuals with either high or low levels of autistic characteristics determined by the Autism-spectrum Quotient (AQ). As previously observed, performance by the group with high levels of autistic traits (high AQ group) was enhanced relative to the low AQ group across all search tasks. However, contrary to expectations of weaker global pooling, both groups demonstrated global integration of visual information around a closed contour and, moreover, the high AQ group displayed greater integration of the visual information available. While the integration and search tasks were inherently different, improved global pooling of information was positively correlated with search ability, indicative of an enhanced system of processing underlying both. This study presents a new method to capture superior visual performance by those with high autistic characteristics where global processes are quantitatively identified.
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