Category Induction in Autism: Slower, Perhaps Different, but Certainly Possible

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2011 Feb;64(2):311-27. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2010.492994. Epub 2010 Jul 8.


Available studies on categorization in autism indicate possibly intact category formation, performed through atypical processes. Category learning was investigated in 16 high-functioning autistic and 16 IQ-matched nonautistic participants, using a category structure that could generate a conflict between the application of a rule and exemplar memory. Same-different and matching-to-sample tasks allowed us to verify discrimination abilities for the stimuli to be used in category learning. Participants were then trained to distinguish between two categories of imaginary animals, using categorization tests early in the training and at the end (160 trials). A recognition test followed, in order to evaluate explicit exemplar memory. Similar discrimination performance was found in control tasks for both groups. For the categorization task, autistic participants did not use any identifiable strategy early in the training, but used strategies similar to those of the nonautistic participants by the end, with the same level of accuracy. Memory for the exemplars was poor in both groups. Our findings confirm that categorization may be successfully performed by autistics, but may necessitate longer exposure to material, as the top-down use of rules may be only secondary to a guessing strategy in autistics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Concept Formation
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Young Adult