Perceptual averaging in individuals with autism spectrum disorder

Jennifer E. Corbett, Paola Venuti, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is mounting evidence that observers rely on statistical summaries of visual information to maintain stable and coherent perception. Sensitivity to the mean (or other prototypical value) of a visual feature (e.g., mean size) appears to be a pervasive process in human visual perception. Previous studies in individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have uncovered characteristic patterns of visual processing that suggest they may rely more on enhanced local representations of individual objects instead of computing such perceptual averages. To further explore the fundamental nature of abstract statistical representation in visual perception, we investigated perceptual averaging of mean size in a group of 12 high-functioning individuals diagnosed with ASD using simplified versions of two identification and adaptation tasks that elicited characteristic perceptual averaging effects in a control group of neurotypical participants. In Experiment 1, participants performed with above chance accuracy in recalling the mean size of a set of circles (mean task) despite poor accuracy in recalling individual circle sizes (member task). In Experiment 2, their judgments of single circle size were biased by mean size adaptation. Overall, these results suggest that individuals with ASD perceptually average information about sets of objects in the surrounding environment. Our results underscore the fundamental nature of perceptual averaging in vision, and further our understanding of how autistic individuals make sense of the external environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1735
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberNOV
StatePublished - Nov 7 2016


  • ASD
  • Attention
  • Mean size
  • Perceptual adaptation
  • Perceptual averaging
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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