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.


Available from: Ruth Campbell
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    • "This is in accordance with the observation that individuals with ASD can be disproportionally affected by distracter items close to a current fixation (Burack 1994). It has been proposed that those with ASD have an enhanced perceptual capacity and spontaneously process surrounding information as well as central information (Remington et al. 2009Remington et al. , 2012). It is possible that, in the current study, this enhanced perceptual capacity resulted in ASD participants taking in more information surrounding the current fixation and hence exploring this in greater detail at certain points in their visual exploration. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often display enhanced attention to detail and exhibit restricted behavior. However, due to a lack of comprehensive eye-movement modeling techniques, it is currently unknown whether these behavioral effects are also evident during scene viewing (i.e., detailed visual inspection and restricted visual exploration). Free-viewing eye-tracking data from observation of everyday photographic scenes were recorded during 2 experiments involving high-functioning adolescents with ASD and matched typically developing (TD) controls (Experiment 1, ASD n = 14; TD n = 22; Experiment 2, ASD n = 16; TD n = 23). Data from both experiments were combined and analyzed using 5 novel methods of eye-tracking, time-course analysis, enabling detailed characterization of viewing strategies. Participants' verbal descriptions of scenes were also assessed. Scenes either contained a centrally positioned person whose face was in full view or contained no centrally positioned face. For both types of scene, ASD participants displayed significantly less exploration of new areas over time compared with their TD peers. Analyses of scan-path length and recursion suggested a greater tendency to explore areas close to the current fixation in the ASD group, termed visual persistence. Differences were not accounted for by fixation rate. Significantly more areas within the scenes were also missing from the verbal descriptions in the ASD group. Differences were observed for both scene types, suggesting a domain-general difference rather than a specific impairment related to face processing. The observed characteristic viewing patterns may explain relative superior processing of local level information in individuals with ASD. (PsycINFO Database Record
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2016 · Journal of Abnormal Psychology
    • "Importantly, the high AQ group showed a significant N2pc in both study one and study two, providing support for our conclusion that N2pc amplitude is increased in individuals with high AQ scores. Previous work suggests that those with ASC (Remington et al. 2009) and those with high levels of autistic traits (Bayliss and Kritikos 2011) have an enhanced perceptual capacity. Ultimately the result of this enhanced capacity appears to be the processing of normally irrelevant distracting items in a visual scene and this could lead to the overwhelming perceptual experience often reported by those with an ASC. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Selective attention is atypical in individuals with autism spectrum conditions. Evidence suggests this is also the case for those with high levels of autistic traits. Here we investigated the neural basis of spatial attention in those with high and low levels of self-reported autistic traits via analysis of ERP deflections associated with covert attention, target selection and distractor suppression (the N2pc, NT and PD). Larger N2pc and smaller PD amplitude was observed in those with high levels of autistic traits. These data provide neural evidence for differences in spatial attention, specifically, reduced distractor suppression in those with high levels of autistic traits, and may provide insight into the experience of perceptual overload often reported by individuals on the autism spectrum.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2016 · Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
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    • "Understanding situations when we are more or less susceptible to auditory distraction also has implications for clinical populations where resistance to distraction appears to be altered. For example, our paradigm could be used to assess auditory selective attention and perceptual capacity in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Kofler, Rapport, Bolden, Sarver, & Raiker, 2010) and autism (e.g., Remington, Swettenham, Campbell, & Coleman, 2009). In the latter, for example, anecdotal reports indicate that individuals often find seemingly innocuous sounds very distressing, and report being overwhelmed by competing sounds. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the visual domain there is considerable evidence supporting the Load Theory of Attention and Cognitive Control, which holds that conscious perception of background stimuli depends on the level of perceptual load involved in a primary task. However, literature on the applicability of this theory to the auditory domain is limited and, in many cases, inconsistent. Here we present a novel "auditory search task" that allows systematic investigation of the impact of auditory load on auditory conscious perception. An array of simultaneous, spatially separated sounds was presented to participants. On half the trials, a critical stimulus was presented concurrently with the array. Participants were asked to detect which of 2 possible targets was present in the array (primary task), and whether the critical stimulus was present or absent (secondary task). Increasing the auditory load of the primary task (raising the number of sounds in the array) consistently reduced the ability to detect the critical stimulus. This indicates that, at least in certain situations, load theory applies in the auditory domain. The implications of this finding are discussed both with respect to our understanding of typical audition and for populations with altered auditory processing. (PsycINFO Database Record
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance
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