Reduced distractor interference in neurotypical adults with high expression of autistic traits irrespective of stimulus type

Mayra Muller Spaniol*, Lilach Shalev, Carmel Mevorach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Attention atypicality is evident in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and its broader phenotype with previous studies suggesting that in some cases participants can be more efficient at ignoring distracting irrelevant information. However, it is not clear to what extent this improved filtering capacity is driven by perceptual atypicality, such as local bias or atypical face processing, which is also sometimes reported in these populations. For instance, better ability to ignore the global aspect of a display could stem from a local perceptual bias rather than from improved distractor inhibition. To test whether distractor suppression per se, is associated with high expression of autistic traits, in the present study a large cohort of neurotypical participants (n = 218), in whom expression of autistic traits was assessed, performed two nonspatial attention selection tasks with different categories of stimuli (global/local and face/scene). Importantly, both tasks involved a conflict with one aspect of the stimuli designated as the target and the other designated as the distractor. Across the two experiments adults with high autistic traits were overall, better able to ignore distractors than adults with low autistic traits, irrespective of the type of perceptual processing involved. These results support the notion that autistic tendencies are associated with increased attention filtering (at least when target and distractor remain constant) which is not dependent on perceptual biases. Thus, future work in the broader autism phenotype should explicitly consider the effect played by attention mechanisms in this population. Autism Res 2018, 11: 1345–1355.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1345-1355
Number of pages11
JournalAutism Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


FundersFunder number
Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior2903/13-0


    • attention
    • autism spectrum disorder
    • broader autism phenotype
    • distractor suppression
    • perceptual bias


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