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Visual Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Project Collaborator:

Dr. Duje Tadin

Illutration of Visual Processing


How do children and adolescents see different things in the world around them? There is so much visual information in the world and our brains work to efficiently process what is most important. Our brains are tuned to process different types of images with varying levels of precision, which helps us see what is necessary and filter out what is not. Previous research suggests that children with autism may have difficulty processing faces, but that they may show a strength in processing other types of visual information.

In this study, we are investigating how different images are processed and what features of the images are important for optimal perception. This will help us understand what is visually most important, and what might be different in autism.

We use computer game-like tasks, with different types of images (like the ones seen below) and are interested in how children’s visual judgments of these images are different depending upon what the image looks like. We also investigate individuals' viewing patterns of these images by using eye tracking technology. This research will provide clues into how different people respond to different images. It will also help us understand how the way we see the world is related to some of the social communication challenges in children with autism.

high contrast stimulusFace stimulus

Examples of images that children look at on the computer. Left: Participants decide the direction that they see the stripes moving. The stripes stay on the screen for different amounts of time and we are looking at how long they need to remain on the screen for children to reliably be able to determine the direction of motion. One previous study found that children with autism showed a two-fold advantage for the high contrast moving images. This means that children with autism needed the image to remain on the screen for a much shorter time, compared to typically developing children, to reliably determine the direction of motion. Right: Participants are shown an image of a face for a very short period of time. Then, they must identify the face they just saw from four different choices. Previous research suggests typical adults have specific viewing patterns that maximize face identification. We are interested in where individuals with autism look when viewing faces and how those viewing patterns affect face identification abilities

This study is being funded by the Schmitt Program on Integrative Neuroscience.

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