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Enhanced visual processing contributes to matrix reasoning in autism

Authors

  • Isabelle Soulières,

    Corresponding author
    1. Neural Systems Group, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    3. Centre d'excellence en Troubles envahissants du développement de l'Université de Montréal (CETEDUM), Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
    • CETEDUM, Hôpital Rivière- des-Prairies, 7070 Blvd Perras, Montréal (Québec), H1E 1A4, Canada
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  • Michelle Dawson,

    1. Centre d'excellence en Troubles envahissants du développement de l'Université de Montréal (CETEDUM), Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
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  • Fabienne Samson,

    1. Centre d'excellence en Troubles envahissants du développement de l'Université de Montréal (CETEDUM), Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
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  • Elise B. Barbeau,

    1. Centre d'excellence en Troubles envahissants du développement de l'Université de Montréal (CETEDUM), Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
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  • Chérif P. Sahyoun,

    1. Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Gary E. Strangman,

    1. Neural Systems Group, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Thomas A. Zeffiro,

    1. Neural Systems Group, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Laurent Mottron

    1. Centre d'excellence en Troubles envahissants du développement de l'Université de Montréal (CETEDUM), Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
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Abstract

Recent behavioral investigations have revealed that autistics perform more proficiently on Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) than would be predicted by their Wechsler intelligence scores. A widely-used test of fluid reasoning and intelligence, the RSPM assays abilities to flexibly infer rules, manage goal hierarchies, and perform high-level abstractions. The neural substrates for these abilities are known to encompass a large frontoparietal network, with different processing models placing variable emphasis on the specific roles of the prefrontal or posterior regions. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the neural bases of autistics' RSPM problem solving. Fifteen autistic and eighteen non-autistic participants, matched on age, sex, manual preference and Wechsler IQ, completed 60 self-paced randomly-ordered RSPM items along with a visually similar 60-item pattern matching comparison task. Accuracy and response times did not differ between groups in the pattern matching task. In the RSPM task, autistics performed with similar accuracy, but with shorter response times, compared to their non-autistic controls. In both the entire sample and a subsample of participants additionally matched on RSPM performance to control for potential response time confounds, neural activity was similar in both groups for the pattern matching task. However, for the RSPM task, autistics displayed relatively increased task-related activity in extrastriate areas (BA18), and decreased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex (BA9) and the medial posterior parietal cortex (BA7). Visual processing mechanisms may therefore play a more prominent role in reasoning in autistics. Hum Brain Mapp, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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