Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 395–403 | Cite as

Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder Exhibit Difficulty in Switching Attention from a Local Level to a Global Level

  • Masatoshi KatagiriEmail author
  • Tetsuko Kasai
  • Yoko Kamio
  • Harumitsu Murohashi
Original Paper


The purpose of the present study was to determine whether individuals with Asperger’s disorder exhibit difficulty in switching attention from a local level to a global level. Eleven participants with Asperger’s disorder and 11 age- and gender-matched healthy controls performed a level-repetition switching task using Navon-type hierarchical stimuli. In both groups, level-repetition was beneficial at both levels. Furthermore, individuals with Asperger’s disorder exhibited difficulty in switching attention from a local level to a global level compared to control individuals. These findings suggested that there is a problem with the inhibitory mechanism that influences the output of enhanced local visual processing in Asperger’s disorder.


Asperger’s disorder Level-repetition Switching Global Local 



We would like to thank all of the participants for making this research possible. We would also like to thank Dr. Tsukishima and Dr. Nakano for their help. We are grateful to Ms. Numata, Ms. Watanabe, Ms. Uematsu and Dr. Matsui for their helpful and insightful comments on this article. This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (no. 23730870).


  1. Akshoomoff, N. (2005). The neuropsychology of autistic spectrum disorders. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27, 307–310.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision) DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. DiCicco-Bloom, E., Lord, C., Zwaigenbaum, L., Courchesne, E., Dager, S. R., Schmitz, C., et al. (2006). The developmental neurobiology of autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 6897–6906.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Geurts, H. M., Corbett, B., & Solomon, M. (2009). The paradox of cognitive flexibility in autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 74–82.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Happé, F. G., & Booth, R. D. (2008). The power of the positive: Revisiting weak coherence in autism spectrum disorders. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 50–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 5–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jarrold, C., Butler, D., Cottington, E., & Jimenez, F. (2000). Linking theory of mind and central coherence bias in autism and in the general population. Developmental Psychology, 36, 126–138.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jolliffe, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. (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
  9. Kimchi, R. (1992). Primacy of wholistic processing and global/local paradigm: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 24–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Lamb, M. R., London, B., Pond, H. M., & Whitt, K. A. (1998). Automatic and controlled processes in the analysis of hierarchical structure. Psychological Science, 9, 14–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lamb, M. R., & Yund, E. W. (1996). Spatial frequency and attention: Effects of level-, target-, and location-repetition on the processing of global and local forms. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 363–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mann, T. A., & Walker, P. (2003). Autism and a deficit in broadening the spread of visual attention. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 274–284.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 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
  14. Mottron, L., Dawson, M., Soulières, I., Hubert, B., & Burack, J. (2006). Enhanced perceptual functioning in autism: An update, and eight principles of autistic perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 27–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Navon, D. (1977). Forest before trees: The precedence of global features in visual perception. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 353–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ozonoff, S., Strayer, D. L., McMahon, W. M., & Filloux, F. (1994). Executive function abilities in autism and Tourette syndrome: An information processing approach. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1015–1032.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Plaisted, K., Swettenham, J., & Rees, L. (1999). Children with autism show local precedence in a divided attention task and global precedence in a selective attention task. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 733–742.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rinehart, N. J., Bradshaw, J. L., Moss, S. A., Brereton, A. V., & Tonge, B. J. (2000). Atypical interference of local detail on global processing in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 769–778.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rinehart, N. J., Bradshaw, J. L., Moss, S. A., Brereton, A. V., & Tonge, B. J. (2001). A deficit in shifting attention present in high-functioning autism but not Asperger’s disorder. Autism, 5, 67–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Robertson, L. C. (1996). Attentional persistence for features of hierarchical patterns. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 125, 227–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Scherf, K. S., Luna, B., Kimchi, R., Minshew, N., & Behrmann, M. (2008). Missing the big picture: Impaired development of global shape processing in autism. Autism Research, 1, 114–129.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. Wang, L., Mottron, L., Peng, D., Berthiaume, C., & Dawson, M. (2007). Local bias and local-to-global interference without global deficit: A robust finding in autism under various conditions of attention, exposure time, and visual angle. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 24, 550–574.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wilkinson, D. T., Halligan, P. W., Marshall, J. C., Büchel, C., & Dolan, R. J. (2001). Switching between the forest and the trees: Brain systems involved in local/global changed-level judgments. Neuroimage, 13, 56–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Masatoshi Katagiri
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tetsuko Kasai
    • 3
  • Yoko Kamio
    • 2
  • Harumitsu Murohashi
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Neuropsychiatry and Neuropsychology, Graduate School of MedicineUniversity of ToyamaToyamaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, National Institute of Mental HealthNational Center of Neurology and PsychiatryTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Faculty of EducationHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan

Personalised recommendations