Objectives: To use two different social change blindness paradigms to test whether there are differences in the allocation of attention to social and mechanical items in people with ASC compared to controls.
Methods: We tested 20 adult males with ASC, along with 20 age, IQ, and sex matched control males and 20 matched control females on two different social change blindness paradigms. One of the tasks used scenes of everyday life with changes to either social or mechanical items within the scenes. The other task used individual pictures arranged in a matrix, to test attention to social and mechanical items with a more featural type of processing which may be easier for those with ASC.
Results: Overall, participants detected changes to social items faster than mechanical items. However, people with ASC were slower than controls to detect changes to social items, an effect that was found across both social change blindness tasks. No differences were found between the ASC and control groups in time to detect changes in the mechanical items. These findings were not due to a general difficulty by the ASC group in doing the tasks, as no significant main effects of group were found for either task.
Conclusions: Social information is normally very salient and tends to capture attention. However, social information is less salient to those with ASC, and so is less likely to be within the focus of their attention. These findings have implications for the development of social cognition in ASC.