Aberrant causal inference and presence of a compensatory mechanism in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Jean Paul Noel, Sabyasachi Shivkumar, Kalpana Dokka, Ralf M. Haefner, Dora E. Angelaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a panoply of social, communicative, and sensory anomalies. As such, a central goal of computational psychiatry is to ascribe the heterogenous phenotypes observed in ASD to a limited set of canonical computations that may have gone awry in the disorder. Here, we posit causal inference-the process of inferring a causal structure linking sensory signals to hidden world causes-as one such computation. We show that audio-visual integration is intact in ASD and in line with optimal models of cue combination, yet multisensory behavior is anomalous in ASD because this group operates under an internal model favoring integration (vs. segregation). Paradoxically, during explicit reports of common cause across spatial or temporal disparities, individuals with ASD were less and not more likely to report common cause, particularly at small cue disparities. Formal model fitting revealed differences in both the prior probability for common cause (p-common) and choice biases, which are dissociable in implicit but not explicit causal inference tasks. Together, this pattern of results suggests (i) different internal models in attributing world causes to sensory signals in ASD relative to neurotypical individuals given identical sensory cues, and (ii) the presence of an explicit compensatory mechanism in ASD, with these individuals putatively having learned to compensate for their bias to integrate in explicit reports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere71866
StatePublished - May 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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