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Atypical updating of face representations with experience in children with autism

Authors

  • Louise Ewing,

    Corresponding author
    • ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Australia
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  • Elizabeth Pellicano,

    1. ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Australia
    2. Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), Institute of Education, University of London, UK
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  • Gillian Rhodes

    1. ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Australia
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Address for correspondence: Louise Ewing, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia; e-mail: louise.ewing@uwa.edu.au

Abstract

Face identity aftereffects are significantly diminished in children with autism relative to typical children, which may reflect reduced perceptual updating with experience. Here, we investigated whether this atypicality also extends to non-face stimulus categories, which might signal a pervasive visual processing difference in individuals with autism. We used a figural aftereffect task to measure directly perceptual updating following exposure to distorted upright faces, inverted faces and cars, in typical children and children with autism. A size-change between study and test stimuli limited the likelihood that any processing atypicalities reflected group differences in adaptation to low-level features of the stimuli. Results indicated that, relative to typical children, figural aftereffects for upright faces, but not inverted faces or cars, were significantly attenuated in children with autism. Moreover, the group difference was amplified when we isolated the ‘face-selective’ component of the aftereffect, by partialling out the mid-level shape adaptation common to upright and inverted face stimuli. Notably, the aftereffects of typical children were disproportionately larger for upright faces than for inverted faces and cars, but the magnitude of aftereffects of autistic children was not similarly modulated according to stimulus category. These findings are inconsistent with a pervasive adaptive coding atypicality relative to typical children, and suggest that reduced perceptual updating may constitute a high-level, and possibly face-selective, visual processing difference in children with autism.

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