Alongside difficulties with communication and social interaction, autism is often accompanied by unusual sensory and perceptual experiences including enhanced visual performance on tasks that involve separating local parts from global context. This superiority may be the result of atypical integrative processing, involving feedback and lateral connections between visual neurons. The current study investigated the integrity of these connections in autistic adults by examining two psychophysics tasks that rely on these processes – collinear facilitation and contour integration. The relative contribution of feedback and lateral connectivity was studied by altering the timing of the target relative to the flankers in the collinear facilitation task, in 16 autistic and 16 non-autistic adults. There were no significant differences in facilitation between the autistic and non-autistic groups, indicating that for this task and participant sample, lateral and feedback connectivity appear relatively intact in autistic individuals. Contour integration was examined in a different group of 20 autistic and 18 non-autistic individuals, for open and closed contours to assess the closure effect (improved detection of closed compared to open contours). Autistic individuals showed a reduced closure effect at both short (150 ms) and longer (500 ms) stimulus presentation durations that was driven by better performance of the autistic group for the open contours. These results suggest that reduced closure in a simple contour detection paradigm is unlikely to be due to slower global processing. Reduced closure has implications for understanding sensory overload by contributing to reduced figure-ground segregation of salient visual features.Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Paul A Warren