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Autism Res. 2010 Aug;3(4):191-5. doi: 10.1002/aur.137.

Comparison of visual sensitivity to human and object motion in autism spectrum disorder.

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  • 1Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Successful social behavior requires the accurate detection of other people's movements. Consistent with this, typical observers demonstrate enhanced visual sensitivity to human movement relative to equally complex, nonhuman movement [e.g., Pinto & Shiffrar, 2009]. A psychophysical study investigated visual sensitivity to human motion relative to object motion in observers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Participants viewed point-light depictions of a moving person and, for comparison, a moving tractor and discriminated between coherent and scrambled versions of these stimuli in unmasked and masked displays. There were three groups of participants: young adults with ASD, typically developing young adults, and typically developing children. Across masking conditions, typical observers showed enhanced visual sensitivity to human movement while observers in the ASD group did not. Because the human body is an inherently social stimulus, this result is consistent with social brain theories [e.g., Pelphrey & Carter, 2008; Schultz, 2005] and suggests that the visual systems of individuals with ASD may not be tuned for the detection of socially relevant information such as the presence of another person. Reduced visual sensitivity to human movements could compromise important social behaviors including, for example, gesture comprehension.

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