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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2000 Nov;41(8):1057-65.

Local and global processing of music in high-functioning persons with autism: beyond central coherence?

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  • 1Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies and Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.


A multi-modal abnormality in the integration of parts and whole has been proposed to account for a bias toward local stimuli in individuals with autism (Frith, 1989; Mottron & Belleville, 1993). In the current experiment, we examined the utility of hierarchical models in characterising musical information processing in autistic individuals. Participants were 13 high-functioning individuals with autism and 13 individuals of normal intelligence matched on chronological age, nonverbal IQ, and laterality, and without musical experience. The task consisted of same-different judgements of pairs of melodies. Differential local and global processing was assessed by manipulating the level, local or global, at which modifications occurred. No deficit was found in the two measures of global processing. In contrast, the clinical group performed better than the comparison group in the detection of change in nontransposed, contour-preserved melodies that tap local processing. These findings confirm the existence of a "local bias" in music perception in individuals with autism, but challenge the notion that it is accounted for by a deficit in global music processing. The present study suggests that enhanced processing of elementary physical properties of incoming stimuli, as found previously in the visual modality, may also exist in the auditory modality.

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