Behavioral evidence for an impaired ability to group objects based on similar physical or semantic properties in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been mixed. Here, we recorded brain activity from high-functioning children with ASD as they completed a visual-target detection task. We then assessed the extent to which object-based selective attention automatically generalized from targets to non-target exemplars from the same well-known object class (e.g., dogs). Our results provide clear electrophysiological evidence that children with ASD (N = 17, aged 8-13 years) process the similarity between targets (e.g., a specific dog) and same-category non-targets (SCNT) (e.g., another dog) to a lesser extent than do their typically developing (TD) peers (N = 21). A closer examination of the data revealed striking hemispheric asymmetries that were specific to the ASD group. These findings align with mounting evidence in the autism literature of anatomic underconnectivity between the cerebral hemispheres. Years of research in individuals with TD have demonstrated that the left hemisphere (LH) is specialized toward processing local (or featural) stimulus properties and the right hemisphere (RH) toward processing global (or configural) stimulus properties. We therefore propose a model where a lack of communication between the hemispheres in ASD, combined with typical hemispheric specialization, is a root cause for impaired categorization and the oft-observed bias to process local over global stimulus properties.
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Category processing
- Hemispheric asymmetries
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience