The scope of social attention deficits in autism: Prioritized orienting to people and animals in static natural scenes

Yale University, Department of Psychology, USA.
Neuropsychologia (Impact Factor: 3.3). 09/2009; 48(1):51-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.008
Source: PubMed


A central feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an impairment in 'social attention'--the prioritized processing of socially relevant information, e.g. the eyes and face. Socially relevant stimuli are also preferentially attended in a broader categorical sense, however: observers orient preferentially to people and animals (compared to inanimate objects) in complex natural scenes. To measure the scope of social attention deficits in autism, observers viewed alternating versions of a natural scene on each trial, and had to 'spot the difference' between them--where the difference involved either an animate or inanimate object. Change detection performance was measured as an index of attentional prioritization. Individuals with ASD showed the same prioritized social attention for animate categories as did control participants. This could not be explained by lower level visual factors, since the effects disappeared when using blurred or inverted images. These results suggest that social attention - and its impairment in autism - may not be a unitary phenomenon: impairments in visual processing of specific social cues may occur despite intact categorical prioritization of social agents.

Download full-text


Available from: Robert T Schultz,
  • Source
    • "4; 137 Hall et al. 2003; Harms et al. 2010; Losh and Capps 2006; 138 Loveland et al. 1997; Rieffe et al. 2007). For instance, 139 people with ASD have difficulties in describing and iden- 140 tifying their own emotions (Hill et al. 2004), recognizing 141 facial expressions (Bal et al. 2010; Corden et al. 2008; 142 Wallace et al. 2008; Law Smith et al. 2010), being attracted 143 by facial stimuli (Begeer et al. 2007; Kikuchi et al. 2009; 144 Marotta et al. 2013), in emotional awareness (Silani et al. 145 2007), and in responding to emotional pictures (Wilbarger 146 et al. 2009). In addition, they show differences in psy- 147 chophysiological (Bölte et al. 2008), neural (Batty et al. 148 20"
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This study assessed visual search abilities, tested through the flicker task, in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Twenty-two children diagnosed with ASD and 22 matched typically developing (TD) children were told to detect changes in objects of central interest or objects of marginal interest (MI) embedded in either emotion-laden (positive or negative) or neutral real-world pictures. The results showed that emotion-laden pictures equally interfered with performance of both ASD and TD children, slowing down reaction times compared with neutral pictures. Children with ASD were faster than TD children, particularly in detecting changes in MI objects, the most difficult condition. However, their performance was less accurate than performance of TD children just when the pictures were negative. These findings suggest that children with ASD have better visual search abilities than TD children only when the search is particularly difficult and requires strong serial search strategies. The emotional-social impairment that is usually considered as a typical feature of ASD seems to be limited to processing of negative emotional information.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 06/2014; DOI:10.1007/s10803-014-2148-0 · 3.34 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "One advantage of using change detection in this study is to better link it with previous studies—for instance, it permits comparisons with a large college population (New et al., 2007), a developmental population (i.e. 7–8-year olds) (New et al., 2010) and with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (New et al., 2010). Most importantly, the change detection task allows us to quantify the percentage of misses to dissociate attention to animals from conscious detectability of them (eye tracking vs detection), which is difficult to probe with a free viewing task. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The amygdala is thought to play a critical role in detecting salient stimuli. Several studies have taken ecological approaches to investigating such saliency, and argue for domain-specific effects for processing certain natural stimulus categories, in particular faces and animals. Linking this to the amygdala, neurons in the human amygdala have been found to respond strongly to faces and also to animals. However, the amygdala’s necessary role for such category-specific effects at the behavioral level remains untested. Here we tested four rare patients with bilateral amygdala lesions on an established change-detection protocol. Consistent with prior published studies, healthy controls showed reliably faster and more accurate detection of people and animals, as compared with artifacts and plants. So did all four amygdala patients: there were no differences in phenomenal change blindness, in behavioral reaction time to detect changes or in eye-tracking measures. The findings provide decisive evidence against a critical participation of the amygdala in rapid initial processing of attention to animate stimuli, suggesting that the necessary neural substrates for this phenomenon arise either in other subcortical structures (such as the pulvinar) or within the cortex itself.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 05/2014; 10(3). DOI:10.1093/scan/nsu065 · 7.37 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "We examined whether children with ASD differentiate congruent and incongruent actions the pSTS. However, the intentional information in our paradigm was conveyed only through facial expression, and prior research has established a deficit in face processing in children with ASD (Klin & Jones, 2006; New et al., 2010). Therefore, in addition to defining intentional congruency by the emotional content in the face (as done throughout the study), we also defined it by the actor's head turn. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Despite often showing behaviorally typical levels of social cognitive ability, unaffected siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder have been found to show similar functional and morphological deficits within brain regions associated with social processing. They have also been reported to show increased activation to biological motion in these same regions, such as the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), relative to both children with autism and control children. It has been suggested that this increased activation may represent a compensatory reorganization of these regions as a result of the highly heritable genetic influence of autism. However, the response patterns of unaffected siblings in the domain of action perception are unstudied, and the phenomenon of compensatory activation has not yet been replicated. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine the neural responses to intentional biological actions in 22 siblings of children with autism and 22 matched controls. The presented actions were either congruent or incongruent with the actor's emotional cue. Prior studies reported that typically developing children and adults, but not children with autism, show increased activation to incongruent actions (relative to congruent), within the pSTS and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. We report that unaffected siblings did not show a compensatory response, or a preference for incongruent over congruent trials, in any brain region. Moreover, interaction analyses revealed a sub-region of the pSTS in which control children showed an incongruency preference to a significantly greater degree than siblings, which suggests a localized deficit in siblings. A sample of children with autism also did not show differential activation in the pSTS, providing further evidence that it is an area of selective disruption in children with autism and siblings. While reduced activation to both conditions was unique to the autism sample, lack of differentiation to incongruent and congruent intentional actions was common to both children with ASD and unaffected siblings.
    Brain and Cognition 10/2013; 83(3):297-306. DOI:10.1016/j.bandc.2013.09.007 · 2.48 Impact Factor
Show more