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Publication - Dr Josie Briscoe

    Children with autism are neither systematic nor optimal foragers


    Pellicano, E, Smith, A, Cristino, F, Hood, B, Briscoe, J & Gilchrist, I, 2011, ‘Children with autism are neither systematic nor optimal foragers’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol 108., pp. 421 - 426


    It is well established that children with autism often show outstanding
    visual search skills. To date, however, no study has tested
    whether these skills, usually assessed on a table-top or computer,
    translate to more true-to-life settings. One prominent account of
    autism, Baron-Cohen’s “systemizing” theory, gives us good reason
    to suspect that they should. In this study,wetested whether autistic
    children’s exceptional skills at small-scale search extend to a largescale
    environment and, in so doing, tested key claims of the systemizing
    account. Twenty school-age children with autism and 20 ageand
    ability-matched typical children took part in a large-scale search
    task in the “foraging room”: a purpose-built laboratory, with numerous
    possible search locations embedded into the floor. Children
    were instructed to search an array of 16 (green) locations to find the
    hidden (red) target as quickly as possible. The distribution of target
    locations was manipulated so that they appeared on one side of the
    midline for 80% of trials. Contrary to predictions of the systemizing
    account, autistic children’s search behavior was much less efficient
    than that of typical children: they showed reduced sensitivity to the
    statistical properties of the search array, and furthermore, their
    search patterns were strikingly less optimal and less systematic.
    The nature of large-scale search behavior in autism cannot therefore
    be explained by a facility for systemizing. Rather, children with autism
    showed difficulties exploring and exploiting the large-scale
    space, which might instead be attributed to constraints (rather than
    benefits) in their cognitive repertoire.

    Full details in the University publications repository