The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking

Abstract

This research investigates the paradox of creativity in autism. That is, whether people with subclinical autistic traits have cognitive styles conducive to creativity or whether they are disadvantaged by the implied cognitive and behavioural rigidity of the autism phenotype. The relationship between divergent thinking (a cognitive component of creativity), perception of ambiguous figures, and self-reported autistic traits was evaluated in 312 individuals in a non-clinical sample. High levels of autistic traits were significantly associated with lower fluency scores on the divergent thinking tasks. However autistic traits were associated with high numbers of unusual responses on the divergent thinking tasks. Generation of novel ideas is a prerequisite for creative problem solving and may be an adaptive advantage associated with autistic traits.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank all the participants in the online survey and the autism charities that helped us to recruit for this research project including ‘Scottish Autism’ and ‘Autism Speaks!’ The research was supported by a Nuffield Foundation Research Placement to the second author.

Author contributions

CB and MD devised the study. CB wrote the first draft of the manuscript and CB and MD both revised it. FP developed and administrated the online survey. FP conducted initial data analysis. SA coded participant responses and completed further data analysis. All authors read and commented on the first draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Catherine Best.

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Best, C., Arora, S., Porter, F. et al. The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 4064–4073 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2518-2

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Ambiguous figures
  • Creativity
  • Autistic traits
  • Divergent thinking