What's odd? Cognitive processing of social contexts based on autistic traits within the general population

Thumbnail Image
Man, Louisa
autism spectrum disorders , visual cognition , eyetracking
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and communicative deficits, such as being able to identify and understand a joke. These social deficits can be understood in a cognitive framework; smaller differences in perceptual processing can snowball into tangible larger differences in complex and dynamic social situations (Benson, Castelhano, Howard, Latif & Rayner, 2016; Minshew & Goldstein, 1998). For example, individuals with ASD have a greater difficulty with tasks requiring higher-order or complex cognitive processing (Minshew & Goldstein, 1998; Benson et al., 2016). The present study extends prior research examining ASD-like cognitive processing styles in non-clinical individuals by examining how different levels of ASD-like traits in the general population can affect perception of social contexts (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001; Bayliss & Tipper, 2006; Ruzich et al., 2015). ASD-like traits were measured by the Autism Quotient (AQ; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). Participants completed a visual/social oddity task that varied on whether complex or simple processing of a visual scene was required. Scenes could be visually odd (e.g., girl with a vase as a “third leg,” which requires simple re-parsing of visual features, or socially odd (e.g., a man walking a lettuce on a leash), which requires integration of past knowledge of social norms. If ASD-like traits are linked with impaired complex but not simple processing we expect people with high ASD-like traits to show differing eye movement patterns for socially odd (complex) but not visually odd (simple) stimuli, with no differences for those with low traits. No significant interactions or main effects were found for differing levels of ASD-like traits.
External DOI