Contextual effects on visual short-term memory in high-functioning autism spectrum disorders

Cristiane Souza, Moreno I. Coco, Sandra Pinho, Carlos N. Filipe, Joana C. Carmo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background According to the context blindness hypothesis (Vermeulen, 2012) individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience difficulties in processing contextual information. This study re-evaluates this hypothesis by examining the influence exerted by contextual information on visual short-term memory. Method In a visual short-term memory task, we test high-functioning individuals with ASD (N = 21) and a typically developed (TD) group (N = 25) matched on age, education and IQ. In this task, participants are exposed to scenes (e.g., the photo of a restaurant), then shown a target-object that is manipulated according to its contextual Consistency with the scene (e.g., a loaf of bread versus an iron) and finally asked whether they saw the target-object or not. Results The response accuracy was differentially mediated by the Consistency of the target-object for both the ASD and TD groups. In particular, individuals with ASD experienced more difficulty in identifying an inconsistent target when it was present in the scene. Moreover, when a consistent object was absent from the scene, individuals with ASD were more likely to wrongly state its presence than TD individuals. Conclusions Our results challenge a strict interpretation of the context blindness hypothesis by demonstrating that individuals with ASD are as sensitive as TD individuals to contextual information. Individuals with ASD, however, appear to use contextual information differently than TD individuals, as they seem to rely more on consolidated contextual expectations than the TD group. These findings could drive the development of novel expectancy-based teaching strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-69
Number of pages6
JournalResearch in autism spectrum disorders
Volume32
Early online date12 Sep 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Contextual expectations
  • Visual short-term memory

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