A new social distance judgment task was used to measure quantitatively the extent to which social cues are immediately and involuntary interpreted by typically developing (TD) individuals and by individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The task thus tapped into the ability to involuntary "pick up" the meaning of social cues. The cues tested were social attention and implied biological motion. Task performance of the ASD and TD groups was similarly affected by a perceptual low-level illusion induced by physical characteristics of the stimuli. In contrast, a high-level illusion induced by the implications of the social cues affected only the TD individuals; the ASD individuals remained unaffected (causing them to perform superior to TD controls). The results indicate that despite intact perceptual processing, the immediate involuntary interpretation of social cues can be compromised. We propose that this type of social cue understanding is a distinct process that should be differentiated from reflective social cue understanding and is specifically compromised in ASD. We discuss evidence for an underpinning neural substrate.

Implied motion, Involuntary processing, Social attention, Social cognition, Visual illusion, adolescent, adult, article, association, attention, autism, child, clinical article, controlled study, human, movement perception, priority journal, school child, social behavior, task performance, visual illusion
dx.doi.org/10.1002/aur.83, hdl.handle.net/1765/17623
Autism Research
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Jellema, T, Lorteije, J, van Rijn, S, van 't Wout, M, de Haan, E, van Engeland, H, & Kemner, C. (2009). Involuntary interpretation of social cues is compromised in autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 2(4), 192–204. doi:10.1002/aur.83