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Title: Visual processing in ASD: from basic perception towards socio-emotional insight
Authors: Evers, Kristel
Issue Date: 13-Jan-2015
Abstract: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a set of early-onset neurodevelopmental conditions which arecharacterized by impairments in social interactions and communication and by restrictive, repetitive behavior patterns and interests. Although not key to the core diagnostic criteria, first descriptions of the disorder already mentioned a striking interest for apparently meaningless details combined with difficulties in extracting the global meaning from incoming information. Alternations in local and global perception and social insight problems have given rise to two important neurocognitive accounts in ASD, which provided the theoretical frameworks of this dissertation: perceptual theories (Weak Central Coherence and Enhanced Perceptual Functioning) and a domain-specific, social theory (Theory of Mind). We evaluated several aspects of local and global visual processing in children with ASD, using both social and non-social stimuli. Therefore, we conducted a broad range of experimental paradigms in two age groups of 6-to-10 and 10-to-14 year old children with ASD, and in two matched typically developing comparison samples. Not only stimuli and tasks were highly diverse (ranging from tracking meaningless dots to social understanding in videos), but behavioral measures were also complemented by eye-tracking registration. In Study 1, children with ASD showed a reduced interfering effect of grouping when tracking meaningless dots. In addition, it took them longer to correctly identify Gaborized outlines of familiar objects, which suggested disturbances in the interplay between bottom-up and top-down processing in ASD (Study 2). Gaze-contingent display changes revealed a bias towards a more analytical face processing style in theyounger participant group, while eye-movement patterns were remarkably similar in those with and without ASD (Study 3). The Emotion Recognition Task showed subtle emotion labeling problems in ASD (Study 4). Study 5 revealed minor socio-emotional insight problems and particular narrative profiles, in addition to atypical preferential fixation patterns in ASD, when watching excerpts of a soap opera. In sum, and in line with recent transitions in the field, no proof for a general global processing deficit or improved detail perception was found. Atypical perceptual functioning in ASD was subtle and depended on task instructions, stimulus complexity, and the age of the sample. In general, more implicit measures were more sensitive in picking up group differences. We also found difficulties in face perception and in emotion processing. All in all, difficulties which are rather obvious in daily life appeared hard to capture in the experimental designs we employed.<span style="font-size:10.5pt;mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:&quot;Cambria&quot;,&quot;serif&quot;;mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA" lang="EN-US">
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Laboratory for Experimental Psychology
Research Group Psychiatry
Parenting and Special Education

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