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Intact priors for gaze direction in adults with high-functioning autism spectrum conditions

Pell, Philip J., Mareschal, Isabelle, Calder, Andrew J., von dem Hagen, Elisabeth A. H. ORCID:, Clifford, Colin W. G., Baron-Cohen, Simon and Ewbank, Michael P. 2016. Intact priors for gaze direction in adults with high-functioning autism spectrum conditions. Molecular Autism 7 , 25. 10.1186/s13229-016-0085-9

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Background Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are associated with a range of perceptual atypicalities, including abnormalities in gaze processing. Pellicano and Burr (Trends Cogn Sci 16(10):504-10, 2012) have argued that these atypicalities might be explained within a Bayesian framework, in which perception represents the combination of sensory information with prior knowledge. They propose that the Bayesian priors of individuals with ASC might be attenuated, such that their perception is less reliant on prior knowledge than neurotypical individuals. An important tenet of Bayesian decision theory is that increased uncertainty about incoming sensory information will lead to a greater influence of the prior on perception. Consistent with this, Mareschal et al. (Curr Biol 23(8):717-21, 2013) showed that when noise is added to the eyes of a face (increasing uncertainty about gaze direction), gaze is more likely to be perceived as direct. Methods We adopted the same paradigm as Mareschal et al. to determine whether the influence of a prior on gaze perception is reduced in neurotypical participants with high numbers of autistic traits (experiment 1) and in individuals with a clinical diagnosis of ASC (experiment 2). Participants were presented with synthetic faces and asked to make a judgement about the relative gaze directions of the faces. Uncertainty about gaze direction was manipulated by adding noise to the eyes of a face. Results Consistent with previous work, in both experiment 1 and experiment 2, participants showed a bias towards perceiving gaze as direct under conditions of uncertainty. However, there was no evidence that the magnitude of this bias was reduced either in the ASC group or in neurotypical controls with a high number of autistic traits. Conclusions Our findings challenge the attenuated priors theory of perception in ASC (Trends Cogn Sci 16(10):504-10, 2012) and related proposals (Trends Cogn Sci 17(1):1, 2013, Front Hum Neurosci 8:302, 2014), and suggest priors for gaze direction are intact in high-functioning ASC.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Publisher: Biomed Central
ISSN: 2040-2392
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 April 2016
Date of Acceptance: 20 March 2016
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2022 09:44

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