An examination of active inference in autistic adults using immersive virtual reality

Sci Rep. 2021 Oct 13;11(1):20377. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-99864-y.


The integration of prior expectations, sensory information, and environmental volatility is proposed to be atypical in Autism Spectrum Disorder, yet few studies have tested these predictive processes in active movement tasks. To address this gap in the research, we used an immersive virtual-reality racquetball paradigm to explore how visual sampling behaviours and movement kinematics are adjusted in relation to unexpected, uncertain, and volatile changes in environmental statistics. We found that prior expectations concerning ball 'bounciness' affected sensorimotor control in both autistic and neurotypical participants, with all individuals using prediction-driven gaze strategies to track the virtual ball. However, autistic participants showed substantial differences in visuomotor behaviour when environmental conditions were more volatile. Specifically, uncertainty-related performance difficulties in these conditions were accompanied by atypical movement kinematics and visual sampling responses. Results support proposals that autistic people overestimate the volatility of sensory environments, and suggest that context-sensitive differences in active inference could explain a range of movement-related difficulties in autism.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement*
  • Virtual Reality*