How Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Spontaneously Attend to Real-World Scenes : Use of a Change Blindness Paradigm, Michal Hochhauser et al., 2018

How Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Spontaneously Attend to Real-World Scenes : Use of a Change Blindness Paradigm

Michal Hochhauser, Adi Aran, Ouriel Grynszpan
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2018, 48, 502–510
DOI 10.1007/s10803-017-3343-6 [accessed Jul 16 2019].



Visual attention of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was assessed using a change blind-ness paradigm. Twenty-five adolescents with ASD aged 12–18 years and 25 matched typically developing (TD) adolescents viewed 36 pairs of digitized real-world images. Each pair of images was displayed in a ‘flicker paradigm’ whereby a particular item alternately appeared and disappeared. This item was either a central or a marginal detail of the scene. Change detection response times were measured and compared between groups. Marginal details were more difficult to detect than central details of the scenes in both groups, however, the response times of the ASD group were lower than the TD group. These results challenge the hypothesis of superior visual detection in ASD.
Keywords : Autism spectrum disorder · Change blindness · Visual attention · Adolescents



Attention can be defined as the process of concentrating on selected items from the environment, to the exclusion of other, unattended stimuli (Pashler 1998). What captures our attention automatically and what we choose to attend to influences the way we experience and perceive the world around us and impacts the course of brain and behavioral development (Keehn et al. 2013). Though not a diagnostic feature, attentional atypicalities are often found among indi- viduals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Studies have shown that individuals with ASD are quicker or more successful than typically developing (TD) control participants at various visual-attentional tasks (For a review see Kaldy et al. 2016); the overall consensus being that across development and symptom severity individuals with ASD outperform controls on visual search. Nevertheless, Iarocci et al. (2006) found no significant difference between the performance of children with and without ASD in a local/global visual search task, and Riby et al. (2012) too, found no group differences in a task where children with and without ASD had to search for a specific object in an array of random objects.
Currently, two main neurocognitive theories focus on the perceptual organization related to atypical attention in ASD. The Weak Central Coherence theory (Frith and Happé 1994) underlines their attenuated tendency to process global information, thus paying more attention to detail. The Enhanced Perceptual Functioning theory (Mottron et al. 2006) emphasizes the superior processing of local elements in individuals with ASD. It claims that while individuals with ASD pro- cess visual information at both the global and local levels, there is an autistic impairment in modulating the relationship between these two levels.