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Attentional Priority for Special Interests in Autism and Neurotypical Passions

[Speaker] Remington, Anna:1
[Co-author] Parsons, Owen E:2, Bayliss, Andrew P:3
1:Centre for Research in Autism and Education, UCL Institute of Education (United Kingdom), 2:Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), 3:School of Psychology, University of East Anglia (United Kingdom)

Individuals with autism commonly show circumscribed interests (areas of obsessive interest in a specific category). The present study investigated what impact these circumscribed interests have on attentional behaviour, an aspect of autistic cognition often reported as altered. Adolescents and young adults with and without autism performed a personalized selective attention task assessing the level of attentional priority afforded to images related to the participant's interests. Neurotypical individuals showed the predicted attentional priority for the special interest images, reflecting their interest and expertise. Contrary to predictions, autistic individuals did not show this priority: they processed interest-related stimuli only when task demands were low. Attention to images unrelated to special interests was equivalent in the two groups. These results suggest that despite individuals with autism holding an intense interest in a particular class of stimuli, there may be a reduced impact of this prior experience/expertise on attentional processing and reduced neural specialisation.
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