Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 152–168 | Cite as

Overselective response to social stimuli by autistic children

  • Laura Schreibman
  • O. Ivar Lovaas


Previous studies have shown that when presented with a complex stimulus input, autistic children typically respond to only one of the elements of the complex. This phenomenon was called “stimulus overselectivity” (or overselective attention). The present investigation sought to determine if this overselectivity might be a possible basis for the deviant social behavior in autistic children. Autistic and normal children were trained to discriminate between clothed girl and boy doll figures. After the children had acquired this discrimination, the individual clothing components and the heads were systematically interchanged between the figures. Thus, it could be determined which component(s) the children had used to make the discrimination. The autistic children demonstrated stimulus overselectivity in that they formed the discrimination between the boy and girl figures on the basis of only one component or of peculiar combinations of components. For example, one child discriminated the figures on the basis of shoes. In contrast, the normal children responded primarily to the figures' heads but could also respond correctly to other parts. These findings are consistent with previous research on stimulus overselectivity and have implications for understanding the difficulty autistic children show in forming meaningful social relationships.


Social Behavior Social Relationship Normal Child Autistic Child Complex Stimulus 


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Copyright information

© V. H. Winston & Sons, Inc 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Schreibman
    • 1
  • O. Ivar Lovaas
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyClaremont Men's CollegeClaremont
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUCLALos Angeles

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