Autism Spectrum Disorder Research
Recent evidence has shown that people with autism spectrum disorder have abnormal object processing: they have superior abilities in processing local features, but are impaired in global processing (weak central coherence). This is most evident for faces. It may be that the impaired ability to construct faces leads to deficits in social development.
This impairment can literally be called the inability to see the forest for the trees. There are two possibilities giving rise to this. The first is an impairment in feature binding. Feature binding is the way the brain puts together different parts of an object, building up a whole. It would be like having a Mr. Potato Head and all the pieces of the face, but the impairment would prevent putting them together. An alternate hypothesis suggests that feature binding is intact, but the impairment is in attending to objects. In this case, the Mr. Potato Head has the potato, 2 eyes, a nose, a mouth and 2 ears, a total of 7 items put together into another object, the whole face. A deficit in object attention would mean that the individual would not be able to hold their attention on the whole face, as it is only one of 8 objects they see (7 pieces of the face and 1 whole face). This can also be seen in a Navon figure (below): when you attend to the one H, you are not attending to the 48 S’s.
My laboratory is investigating hierarchical object processing and object-based attention. A local processing bias may impede reading facial emotions. By understanding how these processes work, rehabilitation techniques and interventions may be developed to mitigate the effects in ASD.