What does an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) perceive first: the forest or the trees? In spite of 30 years of research and influential theories like the weak central coherence (WCC) theory and the enhanced perceptual functioning (EPF) account, the interplay of local and global visual processing in ASD remains only partly understood. Research findings vary in indicating a local processing bias or a global processing deficit, and often contradict each other. We have applied a formal meta-analytic approach and combined 56 articles that tested about 1,000 ASD participants and used a wide range of stimuli and tasks to investigate local and global visual processing in ASD. Overall, results show no enhanced local visual processing nor a deficit in global visual processing. Detailed analysis reveals a difference in the temporal pattern of the local-global balance, that is, slow global processing in individuals with ASD. Whereas task-dependent interaction effects are obtained, gender, age, and IQ of either participant groups seem to have no direct influence on performance. Based on the overview of the literature, suggestions are made for future research.
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