Article

Prototype formation: Can individuals with autism abstract facial prototypes? Autism Research, 2, 279-284

Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Autism Research (Impact Factor: 4.53). 10/2009; 2(5):279-84. DOI: 10.1002/aur.93
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Prototype formation is a critical skill for category learning. Research suggests that individuals with autism may have a deficit in prototype formation of some objects; however, results are mixed. This study used a natural category, faces, to further examine prototype formation in high-functioning individuals with autism. High-functioning children (age 8-13 years) and adults with autism (age 17-53 years) and matched controls were tested in a facial prototype formation task that has been used to test prototype formation abilities in typically developing infants and adults [Strauss, 1979]. Participants were familiarized to a series of faces depicting subtle variations in the spatial distance of facial features, and were then given a forced choice familiarity test between the mean prototype and the mode prototype. Overall, individuals in the autism group were significantly less likely to select the mean prototype face. Even though the children with autism showed this difference in prototype formation, this pattern was driven primarily by the adults, because the adults with autism were approximately four times less likely to select the mean prototype than were the control adults. These results provide further evidence that individuals with autism have difficulty abstracting subtle spatial information that is necessary not only for the formation of a mean prototype, but also for categorizing faces and objects.

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    • "Given that perception and learning processes differ in individuals with autism, one might expect that their perceptual category learning might also be atypical. Consistent with this prediction, several studies have demonstrated atypical prototype formation or categorization by individuals with ASD (Church et al., 2010; Gastgeb, Dundas, Minshew, & Strauss, 2012; Gastgeb et al., 2009; Gastgeb, Wilkinson, Minshew, & Strauss, 2011; Klinger & Dawson, 2001; Klinger et al., 2007). Other studies, however, have reported that perceptual category learning by individuals with ASD is relatively unimpaired (Bott, Brock, Brockdorff, Boucher, & Lamberts, 2006; Froehlich et al., 2012; Molesworth, Bowler, & Hampton, 2005; Soulières, Mottron, Giguère, & Larochelle, 2011; Soulières, Mottron, Saumier, & Larochelle, 2007; Vladusich, Olu-Lafe, Kim, Tager-Flusberg, & Grossberg, 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show atypical patterns of learning and generalization. We explored the possible impacts of autism-related neural abnormalities on perceptual category learning using a neural network model of visual cortical processing. When applied to experiments in which children or adults were trained to classify complex two-dimensional images, the model can account for atypical patterns of perceptual generalization. This is only possible, however, when individual differences in learning are taken into account. In particular, analyses performed with a self-organizing map suggested that individuals with high-functioning ASD show two distinct generalization patterns: one that is comparable to typical patterns, and a second in which there is almost no generalization. The model leads to novel predictions about how individuals will generalize when trained with simplified input sets and can explain why some researchers have failed to detect learning or generalization deficits in prior studies of category learning by individuals with autism. On the basis of these simulations, we propose that deficits in basic neural plasticity mechanisms may be sufficient to account for the atypical patterns of perceptual category learning and generalization associated with autism, but they do not account for why only a subset of individuals with autism would show such deficits. If variations in performance across subgroups reflect heterogeneous neural abnormalities, then future behavioral and neuroimaging studies of individuals with ASD will need to account for such disparities.
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    • "), and why typical faces are perceived as more attractive than atypical faces (e.g., Rubenstein et al. 1999). Interestingly, studies with children and adults have shown that individuals with ASD have difficulty abstracting prototypic representations of faces, which may significantly impact the way facial knowledge is acquired during development (Gastgeb et al. 2009, 2011). While it may take until adulthood to acquire full expertise in processing faces (e.g., see review by Mondloch et al. 2002), the research has also clearly shown that the learning process begins during infancy. "
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    • "Two-thirds of ASD participants demonstrated a prototype effect similar to controls; a subgroup, defined by poorer performance on the additional ambiguous task, did not demonstrate a prototype effect Molesworth, Bowler, and Hampton (2008) Can individuals with ASD form facial prototypes? Participants in the ASD group did not demonstrate prototype formation as did the control group, and this effect was driven more strongly by adults than children Gastgeb et al. (2009) Can individuals with ASD form prototypes of unfamiliar stimuli? "
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