Evidence for impaired attention to social stimuli in autism has been mixed. The role of social feedback in shaping attention to other, non-social stimuli that are predictive of such feedback has not been examined in the context of autism. In the present study, participants searched for a color-defined target during a training phase, with the color of the target predicting the emotional reaction of a face that appeared after each trial. Then, participants performed visual search for a shape-defined target while trying to ignore the color of stimuli. On a subset of trials, one of the non-targets was rendered in the color of a former target from training. Autistic traits were measured for each participant using the Autism Quotient (AQ). Our findings replicate robust attentional capture by stimuli learned to predict valenced social feedback. There was no evidence that autistic traits are associated with blunted attention to predictors of social outcomes. Consistent with an emerging body of literature, our findings cast doubt on strong versions of the claim that autistic traits can be explained by a blunted influence of social information on the attention system. We extend these findings to non-social stimuli that predict socially relevant information.
Anderson, B. A., & Kim, H. (2018). Relating Attentional Biases for Stimuli Associated with Social Reward and Punishment to Autistic Traits. Collabra: Psychology, 4(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.119