Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 762–772 | Cite as

Contrasting the Effects of Task Difficulty and Perceptual Load on Auditory Detection Sensitivity in Individuals with Autism

  • Julian TillmannEmail author
  • John Swettenham
Original Paper


To test a central assumption of the increased perceptual capacity account in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the effects of perceptual load and target-stimulus degradation on auditory detection sensitivity were contrasted. Fourteen adolescents with ASD and 16 neurotypical controls performed a visual letter search task under three conditions: low perceptual load, high perceptual load and low perceptual load with a degraded target while simultaneously detecting an auditory tone in noise. For both participants with ASD and neurotypical controls, increasing perceptual load and target degradation increased task difficulty as indexed by reaction times and accuracy. However, only increasing perceptual load reduced subsequent auditory detection sensitivity. The study confirms that perceptual load, and not task difficulty, modulates selective attention in ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Auditory detection sensitivity Selective attention Perceptual load Task difficulty 



Preparation of this article was supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council United Kingdom (Reference: 1187016). We thank all pupils and staff members for their efforts to participate in the study. J. Tillmann and J. Swettenham have no conflicts of interest to report.

Author Contributions

JT and JS conceived the study, developed its design, and interpreted the data. All authors drafted the manuscript and read and approved the final manuscript.


Preparation of this article was supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council United Kingdom (Reference: 1187016).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

10803_2018_3766_MOESM1_ESM.docx (164 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 163 KB)
10803_2018_3766_MOESM2_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 18 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & NeuroscienceKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Applied Psychology: Health, Development, Enhancement, and InterventionUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of Language and CognitionUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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