Increased sensitivity to mirror symmetry in autism

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 29;6(4):e19519. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019519.


Can autistic people see the forest for the trees? Ongoing uncertainty about the integrity and role of global processing in autism gives special importance to the question of how autistic individuals group local stimulus attributes into meaningful spatial patterns. We investigated visual grouping in autism by measuring sensitivity to mirror symmetry, a highly-salient perceptual image attribute preceding object recognition. Autistic and non-autistic individuals were asked to detect mirror symmetry oriented along vertical, oblique, and horizontal axes. Both groups performed best when the axis was vertical, but across all randomly-presented axis orientations, autistics were significantly more sensitive to symmetry than non-autistics. We suggest that under some circumstances, autistic individuals can take advantage of parallel access to local and global information. In other words, autistics may sometimes see the forest and the trees, and may therefore extract from noisy environments genuine regularities which elude non-autistic observers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychophysics*
  • Space Perception
  • Visual Perception*