Research investigating autism-related deficits in understanding the intent of others has made use of simple animacy displays, similar to those of Heider and Simmel (1944), depicting dynamic geometric shapes. Previously it has been reported that ASD populations are relatively poor at judging the intentions portrayed in these displays (Abell et al, 2000; Castelli et al 2000, 2002; Rutherford et al., 2006). These findings have been related to the reduced social abilities found in ASD populations.
We aim to provide a description of deficits in social understanding associated with ASD by having people with and without ASD judge intentions in real-world video displays and corresponding animacy displays.
Typically animacy displays are synthetically created, resulting in displays which may have little relation to actual human movement. Instead, we use a subtractive technique where video recordings of human interactions are reduced into geometric shapes mimicking the motion of the original actors. Displays were created depicting 6 intentions shown from 2 viewpoints: Chasing, Fighting, Flirting, Following, Guarding and Playing (Blythe et al, 1999) viewed from both the Overhead and Side-View. 14 people with ASD, diagnosed using ADOS and ADI-R, were compared to an age and IQ matched control population. Each participant saw all combinations of animacy and video displays once and indicated the intention displayed via a 6AFC task.
Preliminary results suggest no overall differences between the ASD and control populations. Both groups were able to recognise the displayed intentions at levels above chance. The viewpoint from which the displays were viewed had no effect on ability to recognise intentions. Recognition was better in video displays than animacy displays.
The ability of people with ASD to recognise social intentions may not be as reduced as thought, and in certain situations is equivalent to controls.