Selective Attention and Perceptual Load in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Department of Developmental Science, University College London, London, UK.
Psychological Science (Impact Factor: 4.43). 10/2009; 20(11):1388-93. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02454.x
Source: PubMed


It has been suggested that the locus of selective attention (early vs. late in processing) is dependent on the perceptual load of the task. When perceptual load is low, irrelevant distractors are processed (late selection), whereas when perceptual load is high, distractor interference disappears (early selection). Attentional abnormalities have long been reported within autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and this study is the first to examine the effect of perceptual load on selective attention in this population. Fourteen adults with ASD and 23 adults without ASD performed a selective attention task with varying perceptual loads. Compared with the non-ASD group, the ASD group required higher levels of perceptual load to successfully ignore irrelevant distractors; moreover, the ASD group did not show any general reduction in performance speed or accuracy. These results suggest enhanced perceptual capacity in the ASD group and are consistent with previous observations regarding superior visual search abilities among individuals with ASD.

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    • "At first glance, the notion that ASD is associated with preserved or even enhanced selective attention mechanisms may seem somewhat paradoxical—ASD is often associated with deficits in selective attention and other executive functions (Belmonte and Yurgelun-Todd 2003; Hill 2004; Koshino et al. 2005, 2008). The literature on this topic is complex, with considerable variability in the type and severity of attentional deficits reported across individuals and studies (for considerations of this topic see Just et al. 2007; Kenworthy et al. 2008; Koshino et al. 2005; Ozonoff and Strayer 2001; Remington et al. 2009). In fact, the variability in ASD findings is sometimes referenced as a critique of executive function as a construct (Kenworthy et al. 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: This study examines whether deficits in visual information processing in autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) can be offset by the recruitment of brain structures involved in selective attention. During functional MRI, 12 children with ASD and 19 control participants completed a selective attention one-back task in which images of faces and houses were superimposed. When attending to faces, the ASD group showed increased activation relative to control participants within multiple prefrontal cortex areas, including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). DLPFC activation in ASD was associated with increased response times for faces. These data suggest that prefrontal cortex activation may represent a compensatory mechanism for diminished visual information processing abilities in ASD.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 09/2014; 45(4). DOI:10.1007/s10803-014-2233-4 · 3.34 Impact Factor
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    • "Previous studies have reported an impairment in selective attention in ASD (Burack 1994; Ciesielski et al. 1990) as well as lower resistance to interference from irrelevant elements when engaged in a flanker visual filtering task (Adams and Jarrold 2012; Christ et al. 2011). Impairment in selective attention processes has been recently attributed to superior perceptual capacities (Remington et al. 2009, 2012). Indeed, in manipulating various degrees of the perceptual load of the task (Lavie 2010), Remington and colleagues showed that autistic individuals required higher levels of perceptual load to successfully ignore distractors without diminishing overall performance. "
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    ABSTRACT: Auditory stream segregation allows us to organize our sound environment, by focusing on specific information and ignoring what is unimportant. One previous study reported difficulty in stream segregation ability in children with Asperger syndrome. In order to investigate this question further, we used an interleaved melody recognition task with children in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this task, a probe melody is followed by a mixed sequence, made up of a target melody interleaved with a distractor melody. These two melodies have either the same [0 semitone (ST)] or a different mean frequency (6, 12 or 24 ST separation conditions). Children have to identify if the probe melody is present in the mixed sequence. Children with ASD performed better than typical children when melodies were completely embedded. Conversely, they were impaired in the ST separation conditions. Our results confirm the difficulty of children with ASD in using a frequency cue to organize auditory perceptual information. However, superior performance in the completely embedded condition may result from superior perceptual processes in autism. We propose that this atypical pattern of results might reflect the expression of a single cognitive feature in autism.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 11/2013; DOI:10.1007/s10803-013-2003-8 · 3.06 Impact Factor
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    • "Perceptual load effects also appear to be largely universal across individuals, with one important exception: as load effects depend on capacity limits, individual differences in perceptual capacity (e.g., those associated with age, Maylor and Lavie, 1998; Huang-Pollock et al., 2002; video game expertise, Green and Bavelier, 2003; or conditions such as autism or congenital deafness, Proksch and Bavelier, 2002; Remington et al., 2009) lead to differences in the level of load required to reduce distraction. However, factors predicting vulnerability to distraction, such as self-reported daily life attentional failures, trait anxiety, and WMC, have been found to do so only during tasks with low load, and not high load (Bishop et al., 2007; Forster and Lavie, 2007; Bishop, 2009; Levinson et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Attention research over the last several decades has provided rich insights into the determinants of distraction, including distractor characteristics, task features, and individual differences. Load Theory represented a particularly important breakthrough, highlighting the critical role of the level and nature of task-load in determining both the efficiency of distractor rejection and the stage of processing at which this occurs. However, until recently studies of distraction were restricted to those measuring rather specific forms of distraction by external stimuli which I argue that, although intended to be irrelevant, were in fact task-relevant. In daily life, attention may be distracted by a wide range of stimuli, which may often be entirely unrelated to any task being performed, and may include not only external stimuli but also internally generated stimuli such as task-unrelated thoughts. This review outlines recent research examining these more general, entirely task-irrelevant, forms of distraction within the framework of Load Theory. I discuss the relation between different forms of distraction, and the universality of load effects across different distractor types and individuals.
    Frontiers in Psychology 05/2013; 4:283. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00283 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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