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PeerJ. 2014 Feb 25;2:e261. doi: 10.7717/peerj.261. eCollection 2014.

Reduced object related negativity response indicates impaired auditory scene analysis in adults with autistic spectrum disorder.

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Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Psychology, The University of Auckland , New Zealand.
ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders , Australia ; Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University , Sydney , Australia.


Auditory Scene Analysis provides a useful framework for understanding atypical auditory perception in autism. Specifically, a failure to segregate the incoming acoustic energy into distinct auditory objects might explain the aversive reaction autistic individuals have to certain auditory stimuli or environments. Previous research with non-autistic participants has demonstrated the presence of an Object Related Negativity (ORN) in the auditory event related potential that indexes pre-attentive processes associated with auditory scene analysis. Also evident is a later P400 component that is attention dependent and thought to be related to decision-making about auditory objects. We sought to determine whether there are differences between individuals with and without autism in the levels of processing indexed by these components. Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure brain responses from a group of 16 autistic adults, and 16 age- and verbal-IQ-matched typically-developing adults. Auditory responses were elicited using lateralized dichotic pitch stimuli in which inter-aural timing differences create the illusory perception of a pitch that is spatially separated from a carrier noise stimulus. As in previous studies, control participants produced an ORN in response to the pitch stimuli. However, this component was significantly reduced in the participants with autism. In contrast, processing differences were not observed between the groups at the attention-dependent level (P400). These findings suggest that autistic individuals have difficulty segregating auditory stimuli into distinct auditory objects, and that this difficulty arises at an early pre-attentive level of processing.


Auditory scene analysis; Autism; Binaural processing; Dichotic pitch; Electroencephalography; Event related potential; ORN; Object related negativity; P400

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