Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 41, Issue 11, pp 1565–1572 | Cite as

Performance of Children with Autism on the Embedded Figures Test: A Closer Look at a Popular Task

  • Sarah J. WhiteEmail author
  • David Saldaña
Original Paper


The Embedded Figures Test assesses weak central coherence and individuals with autism are commonly assumed to perform superiorly; however, the evidence for this claim is somewhat mixed. Here, two large (N = 45 and 62) samples of high-functioning children (6–16 years) with autism spectrum disorder performed similarly to typically-developing children on accuracy and reaction time measures; this could not be attributed to insufficient power. Inconsistent past findings are most likely due to methodological and analysis techniques, as well as heterogeneity in central coherence within autism spectrum disorders. While this task has been useful in establishing weak central coherence as a cognitive theory in autism, inconsistent past findings and its inability to disentangle global and local processing suggest that it should be used with caution in the future.


Autism spectrum disorders Central coherence Local bias Embedded figures Inconsistent results Cognitive heterogeneity 



The authors wish to thank Ade Owolabi, Sarah Johnson, Megan Fisher and Gemma Northam for their assistance in collecting the data, and the participating pupils and their schools. The study has been partially supported by a Medical Research Council grant G78/8085, a joint Medical Research Council/Economic and Social Research Council grant PTA-037-27-0107 and a British Academy Grant PDF/2009/213 to the first author and the Andalusian and Spanish government grants EX2004-0098, SEJ2007-67080/PSIC, P07-SEJ-02574, and CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010 CSD2008-00048 to the second author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive NeuroscienceUniversity College London (UK)LondonUK
  2. 2.University of SevilleSevillaSpain

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