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.

Download full-text


Available from: Ruth Campbell
  • Source
    • "Various empirical accounts of attention in ASD have described individuals as both over-focused and yet easily distracted. Previous studies have shown increased distractibility and an inability to filter irrelevant information in ASD (Burack, 1994; Murphy et al., 2014), which may be due, in part, to increased perceptual capacity (Ohta et al., 2012; Remington et al., 2009, 2012). On the other hand, prior research has also demonstrated that individuals with ASD are atypically over-focused (Liss et al., 2006; Lovaas et al., 1979), which may be linked to a narrower attentional spotlight (Robertson et al., 2013; Townsend and Courchesne, 1994) and deficits in increasing the breadth of attention (Mann and Walker, 2003; Ronconi et al., 2013). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), salient behaviorally-relevant information often fails to capture attention, while subtle behaviorally-irrelevant details commonly induce a state of distraction. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neurocognitive networks underlying attentional capture in sixteen high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and twenty-one typically developing (TD) individuals. Participants completed a rapid serial visual presentation paradigm designed to investigate activation of attentional networks to behaviorally-relevant targets and contingent attention capture by task-irrelevant distractors. In individuals with ASD, target stimuli failed to trigger bottom-up activation of the ventral attentional network and the cerebellum. Additionally, the ASD group showed no differences in behavior or occipital activation associated with contingent attentional capture. Rather, results suggest that to-be-ignored distractors that shared either task-relevant or irrelevant features captured attention in ASD. Results indicate that individuals with ASD may be under-reactive to behaviorally-relevant stimuli, unable to filter irrelevant information, and that both top-down and bottom-up attention networks function atypically in ASD. Lastly, deficits in target-related processing were associated with autism symptomatology, providing further support for the hypothesis that non-social attentional processes and their neurofunctional underpinnings may play a significant role in the development of sociocommunicative impairments in ASD.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Source
    • "While studies of inhibition of prepotent responses report unimpaired inhibition in individuals with autism, studies of resistance to distractor inhibition tend to reveal difficulties (Adams and Jarrold 2012; Christ et al. 2007, 2011; Remington et al. 2009). For example, Christ et al. (2007) compared individuals with ASD to neurotypical controls on tasks aimed at assessing prepotent response inhibition, resistance to distracter interference, and resistance to proactive interference. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Executive functioning deficits found in college students with ASD may have debilitating effects on their everyday activities. Although laboratory studies tend to report unimpaired inhibition in autism, studies of resistance to distractor inhibition reveal difficulties. In two studies, we compared a Virtual Classroom task with paper-and-pencil and computerized Stroop modalities in typically developing individuals and individuals with ASD. While significant differences were not observed between ASD and neurotypical groups on the paper-and-pencil and computerized task, individuals with ASD performed significantly worse on the virtual task with distractors. Findings suggest the potential of the Virtual Classroom Bimodal Stroop task to distinguish between prepotent response inhibition (non-distraction condition) and resistance to distractor inhibition (distraction condition) in adults with high functioning autism.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
  • Source
    • "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). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    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.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Show more