Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 1157–1177 | Cite as

Thinking in Pictures as a Cognitive Account of Autism

Original Paper


We analyze the hypothesis that some individuals on the autism spectrum may use visual mental representations and processes to perform certain tasks that typically developing individuals perform verbally. We present a framework for interpreting empirical evidence related to this “Thinking in Pictures” hypothesis and then provide comprehensive reviews of data from several different cognitive tasks, including the n-back task, serial recall, dual task studies, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, semantic processing, false belief tasks, visual search, spatial recall, and visual recall. We also discuss the relationships between the Thinking in Pictures hypothesis and other cognitive theories of autism including Mindblindness, Executive Dysfunction, Weak Central Coherence, and Enhanced Perceptual Functioning.


Autism Cognition Information processing Mental imagery Verbal representations Visual representations Visual reasoning 



This research was supported in part by a grant (IIS Award 0534266) on “Multimodal Case-Based Reasoning in Modeling and Design” from the National Science Foundation, by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship from the Office of Naval Research, and by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The authors would like to thank A. Rozga for her careful reading of this manuscript, K. McGreggor and E. Schumacher for many discussions on this topic, and G. Abowd, R. Arriaga, and the rest of the Autism Research Group at the Georgia Tech/Emory Health Systems Institute for their encouragement and support of this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Design & Intelligence Laboratory, School of Interactive ComputingGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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