Article

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 5-25

The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Francesca HappéAffiliated withSocial, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College LondonSocial, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London Email author 
  • , Uta FrithAffiliated withInstitute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College

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Abstract

“Weak central coherence” refers to the detail-focused processing style proposed to characterise autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The original suggestion of a core deficit in central processing resulting in failure to extract global form/meaning, has been challenged in three ways. First, it may represent an outcome of superiority in local processing. Second, it may be a processing bias, rather than deficit. Third, weak coherence may occur alongside, rather than explain, deficits in social cognition. A review of over 50 empirical studies of coherence suggests robust findings of local bias in ASD, with mixed findings regarding weak global processing. Local bias appears not to be a mere side-effect of executive dysfunction, and may be independent of theory of mind deficits. Possible computational and neural models are discussed.

Keywords

Autism spectrum disorders central coherence cognitive style individual differences local–global processing