Domain general attention processes and stimuli properties
: underlying atypical social attention in high-functioning adults with ASD

  • Simona SkripkauskaitÄ—

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Atypical sensory processing is considered to have an important role in the development of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). With respect to visual processing, research to date shows that individuals with ASD orientate less to social stimuli. Yet, others have suggested that these difficulties are not entirely social in nature and occur due to atypical sensory processing. For example, people with ASD may have difficulty extracting the general gist of the information and thus adopt a more piecemeal approach or have atypical attention mechanisms, resulting in trouble shifting attention between stimuli. Findings regarding these atypicalities are, however, relatively inconsistent. Thus, it remains unclear whether they are specific to the social domain or representative of a more general sensory issues existing across domains. The main aim of this thesis was to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of visual processing of both social and non-social information and the potential effects of audio distractors in high-functioning adults with ASD. The current research utilized measures of manual reaction times and eye-tracking to evaluate performance on tasks ranging from more typical hierarchical figures and gap-overlap paradigms to more complex or dynamic social scenes. The findings mostly suggest that adults with ASD exhibit similar attentional processing to typically developed (TD) adults. However, a combination of subtle domain general and social domain specific atypicalities also occurred throughout the studies. Taken together these findings suggest that whilst high-functioning adults with ASD have a social bias, just like TD adults, it occurs to a lesser extent. Furthermore, this lack of social bias cannot be explained by increased attention to the non-social aspects of the stimuli. Finally, the findings support a notion of enhanced perceptual capacity in high-functioning adults with ASD and suggest that it occurs across modalities.
Date of Award15 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorDiane Bray (Supervisor), Jennifer Mayer (Supervisor) & Lance Slade (Supervisor)

Cite this