Children with autism are superior to typically developing children at visual search tasks (O'Riordan, Plaisted, Driver, & Baron-Cohen, in press; Plaisted, O'Riordan, & Baron-Cohen, 1998b). This study investigates the reasons for this phenomenon. The performance of children with autism and of typically developing children was compared on a series of visual search tasks to investigate two related problems. The first issue was whether the critical determinant of search rate in children is the discriminability of the display items, as it is in normal adults. The second question investigated was whether the superior performance of individuals with autism on visual search tasks is due to an enhanced ability to discriminate between display items. The results demonstrated that discriminability is the rate-determining factor for children with and without autism, replicating earlier findings with normal adults, and that children with autism have an enhanced ability to discriminate between display items. Thus, it seems that an enhanced ability to discriminate between display items underlies superior visual search in autism.
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