Individuals with autism spectrum disorder have altered visual encoding capacity

Jean Paul Noel, Ling Qi Zhang, Alan A. Stocker, Dora E. Angelaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceptual anomalies in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been attributed to an imbalance in weighting incoming sensory evidence with prior knowledge when interpreting sensory information. Here, we show that sensory encoding and how it adapts to changing stimulus statistics during feedback also characteristically differs between neurotypical and ASD groups. In a visual orientation estimation task, we extracted the accuracy of sensory encoding from psychophysical data by using an information theoretic measure. Initially, sensory representations in both groups reflected the statistics of visual orientations in natural scenes, but encoding capacity was overall lower in the ASD group. Exposure to an artificial (i.e., uniform) distribution of visual orientations coupled with performance feedback altered the sensory representations of the neurotypical group toward the novel experimental statistics, while also increasing their total encoding capacity. In contrast, neither total encoding capacity nor its allocation significantly changed in the ASD group. Across both groups, the degree of adaptation was correlated with participants' initial encoding capacity. These findings highlight substantial deficits in sensory encoding - independent from and potentially in addition to deficits in decoding - in individuals with ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3001215
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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