International Meeting for Autism Research: Visual Motion Processing In Autism Spectrum Disorders: Exploring the Profile of Ability Across a Hierarchy of Tasks

Visual Motion Processing In Autism Spectrum Disorders: Exploring the Profile of Ability Across a Hierarchy of Tasks

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
C. Jones1, T. Charman1, J. Swettenham2, A. J. S. Marsden3, J. Tregay3, G. Baird4, E. Simonoff5 and F. Happe5, (1)Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Institute of Education, London, United Kingdom, (2)Psychology and Language Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom, (3)UCL Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom, (4)Guy's Hospital, London, United Kingdom, (5)Institute of Psychiatry, KCL, London, United Kingdom
Background:  It has been suggested that atypicalities in low level visual processing contribute to the expression and development of the unusual cognitive and behavioural profile seen in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, previous investigations have yielded mixed results. Further, the association between performance on these basic visual motion tasks and motion-based higher-order cognitive tasks is not characterised.

Objectives:  (i) To explore the profile of basic visual motion processing abilities in ASD (ii) To explore the association with the Frith-Happé animations, a higher-level task that demands the interpretation of moving, interacting agents in order to understand mental states.

Methods:  89 adolescents with an ASD (mean age = 15 years 6 months (SD = 6 months); mean full-scale IQ = 85.5 (SD = 17.6)) and 52 adolescents without an ASD (mean age =15;6 (6 months); mean full-scale IQ = 88.4 (22.6)) were tested. We investigated performance on three measures of basic visual processing: motion coherence, form-from-motion and biological motion, as well as the Frith-Happé animations.

Results:  At the group level, we found no evidence of differences between the two groups on the basic visual motion processing tasks. However, we identified a tail of individuals with ASD (18% of the sample) who had exceptionally poor biological motion processing abilities compared to the non-ASD group, and who were characterised by low IQ. Consistent with previous work, performance on the Frith-Happé animations was impaired in the ASD group. For both groups of participants, performance on the biological motion task uniquely correlated with performance on the Frith-Happé animations.

Conclusions: The data do not suggest a fundamental impairment in basic visual motion processing in adolescents with ASD. Understanding the mental states of motion-defined characters (Frith-Happé animations) uniquely associates with the ability to perceive biological motion. We hypothesise that this association reflects the shared motion-based social-cognitive characteristics of the two tasks, which have a common neural underpinning in the superior temporal sulcus.  

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