Ensemble perception in autism spectrum disorder: Member-identification versus mean-discrimination
Autism Research , Volume 10 - Issue 7 p. 1291- 1299
To efficiently represent the outside world our brain compresses sets of similar items into a summarized representation, a phenomenon known as ensemble perception. While most studies on ensemble perception investigate this perceptual mechanism in typically developing (TD) adults, more recently, researchers studying perceptual organization in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have turned their attention toward ensemble perception. The current study is the first to investigate the use of ensemble perception for size in children with and without ASD (N = 42, 8–16 years). We administered a pair of tasks pioneered by Ariely  evaluating both member-identification and mean-discrimination. In addition, we varied the distribution types of our sets to allow a more detailed evaluation of task performance. Results show that, overall, both groups performed similarly in the member-identification task, a test of “local perception,” and similarly in the mean identification task, a test of “gist perception.” However, in both tasks performance of the TD group was affected more strongly by the degree of stimulus variability in the set, than performance of the ASD group. These findings indicate that both TD children and children with ASD use ensemble statistics to represent a set of similar items, illustrating the fundamental nature of ensemble coding in visual perception. Differences in sensitivity to stimulus variability between both groups are discussed in relation to recent theories of information processing in ASD (e.g., increased sampling, decreased priors, increased precision). Autism Res 2017.