Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 443–451 | Cite as

Is There a Limit to the Superiority of Individuals with ASD in Visual Search?

  • Roy S. HesselsEmail author
  • Ignace T. C. Hooge
  • Tineke M. Snijders
  • Chantal Kemner
Original Paper


Superiority in visual search for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a well-reported finding. We administered two visual search tasks to individuals with ASD and matched controls. One showed no difference between the groups, and one did show the expected superior performance for individuals with ASD. These results offer an explanation, formulated in terms of load theory. We suggest that there is a limit to the superiority in visual search for individuals with ASD, related to the perceptual load of the stimuli. When perceptual load becomes so high that no additional task-(ir)relevant information can be processed, performance will be based on single stimulus identification, in which no differences between individuals with ASD and controls have been demonstrated.


Autism spectrum disorder Visual search Superiority Perceptual load Load theory 



We thank Branka Milivojevic, Emmie van Schaffelaar, Manje Brinkhuis, Carlijn van den Boomen, and Esther Eijlers for their help with participant recruitment and data collection, and Siarhei Uzunbajakau for building the experimental setup. This work was supported by a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) VICI Grant (45307004) to Chantal Kemner.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roy S. Hessels
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Ignace T. C. Hooge
    • 1
    • 3
  • Tineke M. Snijders
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
  • Chantal Kemner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz InstituteUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Developmental PsychologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.UtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry, Brain Center Rudolf MagnusUniversity Medical CentreUtrechtThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Centre for Language StudiesRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  6. 6.Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and BehaviourRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  7. 7.NijmegenThe Netherlands

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