Aims: To understand how autistic people perceive, learn, and process information differently, in particular in a world of more or less predictable changes.
Background: Several cognitive theories of autism suggest that autistic people might either have specific difficulties in using ‘prior’ information to make sense of the present, or have an aptitude in spotting regularities and therefore an affinity for ‘systems’, or have a different learning style such that they place less weight on ‘prior’ information which has the advantage of processing information in a hypothesis-free (unbiased) way, leading them to spot details that others may miss.
Methods: This research project uses tasks from experimental cognitive psychology and psychophysics, as well as electro-encephalography (EEG), to test for differences between autistic and neurotypical people.
Results: Results indicate both intact use of prior information in autism, as well as a perceptual style that depends less on the use of prior information.
Importance: This work is relevant to both basic science (how does the autistic brain differ from the non-autistic brain?) and applied science (how might autism-friendly educational environments be designed?).
Relevance: This work has translational relevance to teaching autistic children, designing work environments for autistic adults, as well as aiding scientists in search of cognitive and neural ‘biomarkers’ for subgrouping autistic people, that might then relate to either genetic subgroups or subgroups with different support needs.
Funding: The Autism Research Trust, the Medical Research Council, and the Pinsent Darwin Trust
- Perceptual decision-making in autism as assessed by “spot the difference” visual cognition tasks, Scientific Reports (2022), N Jassim, A M Owen, P Smith, J Suckling, R P Lawson, S Baron-Cohen, O Parsons