Reduced change blindness suggests enhanced attention to detail in individuals with autism

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009 Mar;50(3):300-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01957.x.


Background: The phenomenon of change blindness illustrates that a limited number of items within the visual scene are attended to at any one time. It has been suggested that individuals with autism focus attention on less contextually relevant aspects of the visual scene, show superior perceptual discrimination and notice details which are often ignored by typical observers.

Methods: In this study we investigated change blindness in autism by asking participants to detect continuity errors deliberately introduced into a short film. Whether the continuity errors involved central/marginal or social/non-social aspects of the visual scene was varied. Thirty adolescent participants, 15 with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and 15 typically developing (TD) controls participated.

Results: The participants with ASD detected significantly more errors than the TD participants. Both groups identified more errors involving central rather than marginal aspects of the scene, although this effect was larger in the TD participants. There was no difference in the number of social or non-social errors detected by either group of participants.

Conclusion: In line with previous data suggesting an abnormally broad attentional spotlight and enhanced perceptual function in individuals with ASD, the results of this study suggest enhanced awareness of the visual scene in ASD. The results of this study could reflect superior top-down control of visual search in autism, enhanced perceptual function, or inefficient filtering of visual information in ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Awareness*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Perception / physiology*