Atypical Integration of Motion Signals in Autism Spectrum Conditions

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Abstract

Vision in Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) is characterized by enhanced perception of local elements, but impaired perception of global percepts. Deficits in coherent motion perception seem to support this characterization, but the roots and robustness of such deficits remain unclear. We aimed to investigate the dynamics of the perceptual decision-making network known to support coherent motion perception. In a series of forced-choice coherent motion perception tests, we parametrically varied a single stimulus dimension, viewing duration, to test whether the rate at which evidence is accumulated towards a global decision is atypical in ASC. 40 adult participants (20 ASC) performed a classic motion discrimination task, manually indicating the global direction of motion in a random-dot kinematogram across a range of coherence levels (2-75%) and stimulus-viewing durations (200-1500 ms). We report a deficit in global motion perception at short viewing durations in ASC. Critically, however, we found that increasing the amount of time over which motion signals could be integrated reduced the magnitude of the deficit, such that at the longest duration there was no difference between the ASC and control groups. Further, the deficit in motion integration at the shortest duration was significantly associated with the severity of autistic symptoms in our clinical population, and was independent from measures of intelligence. These results point to atypical integration of motion signals during the construction of a global percept in ASC. Based on the neural correlates of decision-making in global motion perception our findings suggest the global motion deficit observed in ASC could reflect a slower or more variable response from the primary motion area of the brain or longer accumulation of evidence towards a decision-bound in parietal areas.

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Robertson, C. E., Martin, A., Baker, C. I., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2012). Atypical Integration of Motion Signals in Autism Spectrum Conditions. PLoS ONE, 7(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048173

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