An aberrant precision account of autism

Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 May 14;8:302. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00302. eCollection 2014.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by problems with social-communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. A recent and thought-provoking article presented a normative explanation for the perceptual symptoms of autism in terms of a failure of Bayesian inference (Pellicano and Burr, 2012). In response, we suggested that when Bayesian inference is grounded in its neural instantiation-namely, predictive coding-many features of autistic perception can be attributed to aberrant precision (or beliefs about precision) within the context of hierarchical message passing in the brain (Friston et al., 2013). Here, we unpack the aberrant precision account of autism. Specifically, we consider how empirical findings-that speak directly or indirectly to neurobiological mechanisms-are consistent with the aberrant encoding of precision in autism; in particular, an imbalance of the precision ascribed to sensory evidence relative to prior beliefs.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder (ASD); learning; perception and action; precision; predictive coding; sensory attenuation; sensory sensitivity; social interaction.