Visual-motor association learning in undergraduate students as a function of the autism-spectrum quotient

  • Parkington K
  • Clements R
  • Landry O
 et al. 
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Abstract

We examined how performance on an associative learning task changes in a sample of undergraduate students as a function of their autism-spectrum quotient (AQ) score. The participants, without any prior knowledge of the Japanese language, learned to associate hiragana characters with button responses. In the novel condition, 50 participants learned visual-motor associations without any prior exposure to the stimuli’s visual attributes. In the familiar condition, a different set of 50 participants completed a session in which they first became familiar with the stimuli’s visual appearance prior to completing the visual-motor association learning task. Participants with higher AQ scores had a clear advantage in the novel condition; the amount of training required reaching learning criterion correlated negatively with AQ. In contrast, participants with lower AQ scores had a clear advantage in the familiar condition; the amount of training required to reach learning criterion correlated positively with AQ. An examination of how each of the AQ subscales correlated with these learning patterns revealed that abilities in visual discrimination—which is known to depend on the visual ventral-stream system—may have afforded an advantage in the novel condition for the participants with the higher AQ scores, whereas abilities in attention switching—which are known to require mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex—may have afforded an advantage in the familiar condition for the participants with the lower AQ scores.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Autism-spectrum quotient (AQ)
  • Executive function
  • Paired-associations
  • Visual perception
  • Visual-motor association learning

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