Configural processing in autism and its relationship to face processing Academic Article uri icon


  • Studies of the perceptual performance of individuals with autism have focused, to a large extent, on two domains of visual behavior, one associated with face processing and the other associated with global or holistic processing. Whether autistic individuals differ from neurotypical individuals in these domains is debatable and, moreover, the relationship between the behaviors in these two domains remains unclear. We first compared the face processing ability of 14 adult individuals with autism with that of neurotypical controls and showed that the autistic individuals were slowed in their speed of face discrimination. We then showed that the two groups differed in their ability to derive the global whole in two different tasks, one using hierarchical compound letters and the other using a microgenetic primed matching task with geometric shapes, with the autistic group showing a bias in favor of local information. A significant correlation was also observed between performance on the face task and the configural tasks. We then confirmed the prediction that the ability to derive the global whole is not only critical for faces but also for other objects as well, as the autistic individuals performed more slowly than the control group in discriminating between objects. Taken together, the results suggest that the bias for local processing seen in autistic individuals might have an adverse impact on their ability to process faces and objects.

publication date

  • January 1, 2006