Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 8, pp 1493–1504 | Cite as

Gestalt Perception and Local-Global Processing in High-Functioning Autism

  • Sven Bölte
  • Martin Holtmann
  • Fritz Poustka
  • Armin Scheurich
  • Lutz Schmidt
Original Paper


This study examined gestalt perception in high-functioning autism (HFA) and its relation to tasks indicative of local visual processing. Data on of gestalt perception, visual illusions (VI), hierarchical letters (HL), Block Design (BD) and the Embedded Figures Test (EFT) were collected in adult males with HFA, schizophrenia, depression and normative controls. Individuals with HFA processed gestalt stimuli less in accord with gestalt laws, particularly regarding the principle of similarity. Gestalt processing correlated positively with global processing of the HL. EFT and BD performance correlated negatively with VI susceptibility in HFA. All clinical groups succumbed less to VI than the normative sample. Results suggest decreased gestalt perception in HFA, being associated with a more general local visual processing bias.


Autism Gestalt psychology Perception Cognition Visual illusions Visual-spatial functioning 


  1. Arbeitsgruppe Deutsche Child Behavior Checklist (1998). Fragebogen für junge Erwachsene (YASR). Köln: Arbeitsgruppe Kinder-, Jugend- und Familiendiagnostik (KJFD).Google Scholar
  2. Austin, M. P., Mitchell, P., & Goodwin, G. M. (2001). Cognitive deficits in depression: Possible implications for functional neuropathology. British Journal of Psychiatry, 178, 200–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bölte, S., & Bosch, G. (2005). The long-term outcome in two females with autism spectrum disorder. Psychopathology, 38, 151–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bölte, S., Rühl, D., Schmötzer, G., & Poustka, F. (2006). Diagnostisches Interview für Autismus – Revidiert (ADI-R). Bern: Huber.Google Scholar
  5. Bowie, C. R., & Harvey, P. D. (2005). Cognition in schizophrenia: Impairments, determinants, and functional importance. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 28, 613–633.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brian, J. A., & Bryson, S. E. (1996). Disembedding performance and recognition memory in autism/PDD. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 865–872.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brosnan, M. J., Scott, F. J., Fox, S., & Pye, J. (2004). Gestalt processing in autism: Failure to process perceptual relationships and the implications for contextual understanding. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 459–469.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coello, E., Ardila, A., & Rosselli, M. (1990). Is there a cognitive marker in major depression? International Journal of Neuroscience, 50, 137–145.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Duncan, J., & Humphreys, G. W. (1989). Visual search and stimulus similarity. Psychological Review, 96, 433–458.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frith, U. (1989). Autism: Explaining the enigma. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Frith, U., & Happé, F. (1994). Autism: Beyond “theory of mind”. Cognition, 50, 115–132.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ghaziuddin, M., Ghaziuddin, N., & Greden, J. (2002). Depression in persons with autism: Implications for research and clinical care. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 299–306.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hamilton, M. (1986). Hamilton Depression Scale. In CIPS (Hrsg.), Internationale Skalen für Psychiatrie. Weinheim: Beltz.Google Scholar
  14. Han, S., & Humphreys, G. W. (1999). Interactions between perceptual organization based on Gestalt laws and those based on hierarchical processing. Perception and Psychophysics, 61, 1287–1298.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Happé, F. (1996). Studying weak central coherence at low levels: Children with autism do not succumb to visual illusions. A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 873–877.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hill, E. L., & Frith, U. (2003). Understanding autism: Insights from mind and brain. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 358, 281–289.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoy, J. A., Hatton, C., & Hare, D. (2004). Weak central coherence: A cross-domain phenomenon specific to autism? Autism, 8, 267–281.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnson, S. C., Lowery, N., Kohler, C., & Turetsky, B. I. (2005). Global-local visual processing in Schizophrenia: Evidence for an early visual processing deficit. Biological Psychiatry, 58, 937–946.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jolliffe, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. J. (1997). Are people with autism and Asperger syndrome faster than normal on the Embedded Figures Test? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 527–534.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kay, S. R., Fiszbein, A. Y., & Opler, L. A. (1987). The Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 13, 261–275.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Kimchi, R. (1992). Primacy of wholistic processing and global/local paradigm: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 24–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kimchi, R., & Palmer, S. E. (1982). Form and texture in hierarchically constructed patterns. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 8, 521–535.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Konstantareas, M, & Hewitt, T. (2001) Autistic disorder and schizophrenia: Diagnostic overlaps. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 19–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kracke, I. (1994). Developmental prosopagnosia in Asperger syndrome: Presentation and discussion of an individual case. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 36, 873–886.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lehrl, S. (1991). Mehrfachwahl-Wortschatz-Intelligenztest (MWT-B). Erlangen : Perimed-Fachbuch-Verlagsgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  26. Mottron, L., Mineau, S., Decarie, J. C., Jambaque, I., Labrecque, R., Pepin, J. P., & Aroichane, M. (1997). Visual agnosia with bilateral temporo-occipital brain lesions in a child with autistic disorder: A case study. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 39, 699–705.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mottron, L., & Burack, J. (2001). Enhanced perceptual functioning in the development of autism. In J. A. Burack, T. Charman, N. Yirmiya, & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.). The development of autism: Perspectives from theory and research (pp. 131–148). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. Mottron, L., Burack, J. A., Iarocci, G., Belleville, S., Enns, J. T. (2003). Locally oriented perception with intact global processing among adolescents with high-functioning autism: Evidence from multiple paradigms. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 904–913.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Navon, D. (1977). Forest before trees: The precedence of global features in visual perception. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 353–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1991). Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081–1105.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pomerantz, J. R. (1983). Global and local precedence: Selective attention in form and motion perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 112, 516–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Poppelreuter, W. (1917/1990). Disturbances of lower and higher visual capacities caused by occipital damage. Oxford: Clarendon [Being a translation of `Die psychischen Schädigungen durch Kopfschuss im Kriege 1914/16´. Leipzig: Voss. Translation copyright Zihl, J., 1990.].Google Scholar
  33. Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (1999). Are individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome susceptible to visual illusions? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 1283–1293.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ropar, D., & Mitchell, P. (2001). Susceptibility to illusions and performance on visuospatial tasks in individuals with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 539–549.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rühl, D., Bölte, S., Feineis-Matthews, S., & Poustka, F. (2004). Diagnostische Beobachtungsskala für Autistische Störungen (ADOS). Bern: Huber.Google Scholar
  36. Rutter, M., Silberg, J., O’Connor, T., & Simonoff, E. (1999). Genetics and child psychiatry: II Empirical research findings. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 19–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shah, A., & Frith, U. (1983). An islet of ability in autistic children: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 24, 613–620.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shah, A., & Frith, U. (1993). Why do autistic individuals show superior performance on the block design task? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34, 1351–1364.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tewes, U. (1991). Hamburg-Wechsler-Intelligenztest für Erwachsene–Revision. Göttingen, Germany: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  40. Uhlhaas, P. J., & Silverstein, S. M. (2003). Gestalt Psychology and Schizophrenia: The Continuing relevance of Gestalt psychology for an understanding of schizophrenia. Gestalt Theory, 4, 256–270.Google Scholar
  41. Uhlhaas, P. J., Silverstein, S.M, & Phillips, W. A. (2005). The course and clinical correlates of dysfunctions in visual perceptual organization in schizophrenia during the remission of psychotic symptoms. Schizophrenia Research, 75, 183–192.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wertheimer, M. (1922). Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt. I. Prinzipielle Bemerkungen. Psychologische Forschung, 1, 47–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wertheimer, M. (1923). Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt II. Psychologische Forschung, 4, 301–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wertheimer, M. (1925). Über Gestalttheorie. Philosophische Zeitschrift für Forschung und Aussprache, 1, 39–60.Google Scholar
  45. Wickelgren, I. (2005). Autistic brains out of synch? Science, 308, 1856–1858.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Witkin, H. A., Oltman, P. K., Raskin, E., & Karp, S. (1971). A manual for the Embedded Figures Test. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sven Bölte
    • 1
  • Martin Holtmann
    • 1
  • Fritz Poustka
    • 1
  • Armin Scheurich
    • 2
  • Lutz Schmidt
    • 2
  1. 1.Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie des Kindes - und JugendaltersJohann Wolfgang Goethe-UniversitätsklinikumFrankfurt/MGermany
  2. 2.Johannes Gutenberg-UniversityMainzGermany

Personalised recommendations