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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • dorsal stream;
  • ventral stream;
  • object discrimination;
  • attention

Autism is usually defined by impairments in the social domain but has also been linked to deficient dorsal visual stream processing. However, inconsistent findings make the nature of this relationship unclear and thus, we examined the role of stimulus-driven transient attention, presumably activated by the dorsal stream in autistic tendency. Contrast thresholds for object discrimination were compared between groups with high and low self-rated autistic tendency utilizing the socially based Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). Visual stimuli were presented with either abrupt or with ramped contrast onsets/offsets in order to manipulate the demands of transient attention. Larger impairments in performance of abrupt compared with ramped object presentation were established in the high AQ group. Furthermore, self-reported social skills predicted abrupt task performance, suggesting an important visual perception deficiency in autism-related traits. Autism spectrum disorder may be associated with reduced utilization of the dorsal stream to rapidly activate attention prior to ventral stream processing when stimuli are transient. Autism Res 2014, 7: 104-111. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.