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Ari Rosenberg, Adhira Sunkara, Haorui Jiang, Ting-Yu Chang, Byounghoon Kim, Kailey Sabel, Sarah Jacquot, Ashley Dinges, Brittany Travers; Diminished contextual learning in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):1072. https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.1072.
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Recent theoretical work suggests that behaviors observed in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) reflect a diminished ability to use contextual information to interpret current sensory information. Here we experimentally test this hypothesis by evaluating multi-session, contextual learning in adolescents with ASD and matched typically developing (TD) peers. In the task, participants view a computer screen divided into four quadrants, search for a visual target (the letter "C") amongst letters "I" and "F", and report the quadrant in which the target is located (9 sessions, 300 trials/session). Unbeknownst to the participants, contextual information about the target location is manipulated across sessions (high context – no context – high context). In the first three and last three sessions, the number of letter I's in a quadrant is proportional to the probability that the target is in that quadrant (high context). In the middle three sessions, no contextual information about target location exists. Search time as a function of the proportion of informative cues in the target quadrant provides a measure of contextual learning. We find that the performance of TD participants strongly modulates across sessions, indicating contextual learning. In contrast, the ASD participants show impaired contextual learning and greater heterogeneity in their learning profiles. Cluster analysis of the search time data specifically reveals two qualitatively distinct ASD learning profiles. The first resembles the TD learning profile, but with a delayed ability to learn, disengage, and then relearn the context. The second fails to learn the context altogether, as indicated by search times that do not modulate with the context manipulation. These results provide experimental evidence suggesting there are at least two unique contextual learning profiles within the autism spectrum. This evidence for distinct learning profiles has practical implications for individualizing treatment and education to maximize therapeutic gains for ASD.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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