Article

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: 3.45). 09/2009; 48(1):51-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.008
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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.

0 Bookmarks
 · 
71 Views
  • [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. Yet 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 changedetection protocol. Consistent with prior published studies, healthy controls showed reliably faster and more accurate detection of people and animals, as compared to artifacts and plants. But 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 cortex itself.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 05/2014; · 5.04 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [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; · 3.34 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The phenotype of autism involves heterogeneous adaptive traits (strengths vs. disabilities), different domains of alterations (social vs. non-social), and various associated genetic conditions (syndromic vs. nonsyndromic autism). Three observations suggest that alterations in experience-dependent plasticity are an etiological factor in autism: (1) the main cognitive domains enhanced in autism are controlled by the most plastic cortical brain regions, the multimodal association cortices; (2) autism and sensory deprivation share several features of cortical and functional reorganization; and (3) genetic mutations and/or environmental insults involved in autism all appear to affect developmental synaptic plasticity, and mostly lead to its upregulation. We present the Trigger-Threshold-Target (TTT) model of autism to organize these findings. In this model, genetic mutations trigger brain reorganization in individuals with a low plasticity threshold, mostly within regions sensitive to cortical reallocations. These changes account for the cognitive enhancements and reduced social expertise associated with autism. Enhanced but normal plasticity may underlie non-syndromic autism, whereas syndromic autism may occur when a triggering mutation or event produces an altered plastic reaction, also resulting in intellectual disability and dysmorphism in addition to autism. Differences in the target of brain reorganization (perceptual vs. language regions) account for the main autistic subgroups. In light of this model, future research should investigate how individual and sex-related differences in synaptic/regional brain plasticity influence the occurrence of autism.
    Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 08/2014; · 10.28 Impact Factor

Full-text (2 Sources)

Download
15 Downloads
Available from
Jun 3, 2014