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Endogenous Spatial Attention: Evidence for Intact Functioning in Adults With Autism


Address for correspondence and reprints: David J. Heeger, Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, New York University, 6 Washington Place, 8th floor, New York, NY 10003. E-mail:


Rapid manipulation of the attention field (i.e. the location and spread of visual spatial attention) is a critical aspect of human cognition, and previous research on spatial attention in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has produced inconsistent results. In a series of three psychophysical experiments, we evaluated claims in the literature that individuals with ASD exhibit a deficit in voluntarily controlling the deployment and size of the spatial attention field. We measured the spatial distribution of performance accuracies and reaction times to quantify the sizes and locations of the attention field, with and without spatial uncertainty (i.e. the lack of predictability concerning the spatial position of the upcoming stimulus). We found that high-functioning adults with autism exhibited slower reaction times overall with spatial uncertainty, but the effects of attention on performance accuracies and reaction times were indistinguishable between individuals with autism and typically developing individuals in all three experiments. These results provide evidence of intact endogenous spatial attention function in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that atypical endogenous attention cannot be a latent characteristic of autism in general. Autism Res 2013, 6: 108–118. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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