Evidence of a divided-attention advantage in autism
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People with autism spectrum disorders appear to have some specific advantages in visual processing, including an advantage in visual search tasks. However, executive function theory predicts deficits in tasks that require divided attention, and there is evidence that people with autism have difficulty broadening their attention (Mann & Walker, 2003). We wanted to know how robust the known attentional advantage is. Would people with autism have difficulty dividing attention between central and peripheral tasks, as is required in the Useful Field of View task, or would they show an advantage due to strengths in visual search? Observers identified central letters and localized peripheral targets under both focused- and divided-attention conditions. Participants were 20 adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome and 20 adults matched to the experimental group on education, age, and IQ. Contrary to some predictions, individuals with autism tended to show relatively smaller divided-attention costs than did matched adults. These results stand in stark contrast to the predictions of some prevalent theories of visual and cognitive processing in autism.
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