Is There a Limit to the Superiority of Individuals with ASD in Visual Search?
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.
KeywordsAutism 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.
- Almeida, R. A., Dickinson, J. E., Maybery, M. T., Badcock, J. C., & Badcock, D. R. (2010). A new step towards understanding Embedded Figures Test performance in the autism spectrum: The radial frequency search task. Neuropsychologia, 48(2), 374–381. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.09.024.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): Evidence from asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, malesand females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 5–17. doi: 10.1023/A:1005653411471.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Constable, P. A., Solomon, J. A., Gaigg, S. B., & Bowler, D. M. (2010). Crowding and visual search in high functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder. Clinical Optometry, 93. doi: 10.2147/OPTO.S11476.
- De Jonge, M. V., Kemner, C., de Haan, E. H., Coppens, J. E., van den Berg, T. J. T. P., & van Engeland, H. (2007). Visual information processing in high-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their parents. Neuropsychology, 21(1), 65–73. doi: 10.1037/0894-422.214.171.124.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kemner, C., Ewijk, L., Engeland, H., & Hooge, I. (2007). Brief report: Eye movements during visual search tasks indicate enhanced stimulus discriminability in subjects with PDD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(3), 553–557. doi: 10.1007/s10803-007-0406-0.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24(5), 659–685. doi: 10.1007/BF02172145.Google Scholar
- Merin, N., Young, G. S., Ozonoff, S., & Rogers, S. J. (2006). Visual fixation patterns during reciprocal social interaction distinguish a subgroup of 6-month-old infants at-risk for autism from comparison infants. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(1), 108–121. doi: 10.1007/s10803-006-0342-4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar