Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 May 27;364(1522):1385-91. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0333.


According to the enhanced perceptual functioning (EPF) model, autistic perception is characterized by: enhanced low-level operations; locally oriented processing as a default setting; greater activation of perceptual areas during a range of visuospatial, language, working memory or reasoning tasks; autonomy towards higher processes; and superior involvement in intelligence. EPF has been useful in accounting for autistic relative peaks of ability in the visual and auditory modalities. However, the role played by atypical perceptual mechanisms in the emergence and character of savant abilities remains underdeveloped. We now propose that enhanced detection of patterns, including similarity within and among patterns, is one of the mechanisms responsible for operations on human codes, a type of material with which savants show particular facility. This mechanism would favour an orientation towards material possessing the highest level of internal structure, through the implicit detection of within- and between-code isomorphisms. A second mechanism, related to but exceeding the existing concept of redintegration, involves completion, or filling-in, of missing information in memorized or perceived units or structures. In the context of autistics' enhanced perception, the nature and extent of these two mechanisms, and their possible contribution to the creativity evident in savant performance, are explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude / physiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Creativity*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Perception / physiology*