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Autistic Perception and the Predictive Role of Visual Experience

Project description

Untangling impaired visual perception and prediction in autism spectrum disorder

The ability to predict future events or processes based on prior experience is a skill inherent in many living organisms, critical to their functioning and survival. In the case of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), studies support a dysfunction in an individual’s ability to sample the current visual scene to update visual ‘priors’. With the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the APPROVE project is conducting eye-tracking experiments based on the hypothesis that impairments associated with saccades (rapid eye movements to objects of visual interest) are responsible for the build-up of weak priors. Outcomes will enhance understanding of perceptual symptoms of ASD and potentially point to biomarkers of the condition.


"Localizing stimuli in our environment is crucial for virtually all motor, perceptual and cognitive tasks. The brain is constantly confronted with sensory information that must be processed efficiently to facilitate appropriate reactions. One way of improving processing efficiency is to predict incoming sensory information based on previous experience. However, the way in which prior experience (""priors"" within the Bayesian framework) and current sensory inputs are combined varies between individuals. This project is based on state-of-the-art eye-tracking experiments driven by recent theoretical developments in Autism Spectrum Disorder research. While abnormalities in saccade accuracy in ASD have often been reported, here we investigate the novel hypothesis that impairments in saccade efference-copy processing are responsible for the build-up of weak priors. The project focuses on the dynamic processes by which the brain samples visual scenes to update its model. Eye-movement and pupillometry indices will be used to track differences in visual behavior between ASD and matched controls. The project is intrinsically multidisciplinary, combining educational psychology, neuropsychology, psychophysics, eye-movement and pupillometyry measurement, and virtual reality. This proposal includes both the transfer of knowledge from the host institution and the training of the candidate in new advanced techniques. The results have the potential capacity to lead to a deeper understanding of the perceptual symptoms of ASD, and may also provide a biomarker of ASD. Finally, the project will provide a new theoretical framework within which to conceptualize the role of priors and predictions in visual behavior in normal and pathological eye-movement development which will lay the groundwork for new insights into the link between potential early visual behavior vulnerability in childhood and the subsequent onset of socio-communicative difficulties and behavioral stereotypes in adulthood."



Net EU contribution
€ 162 806,40
Universitaetsstrasse 1
40225 Dusseldorf

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Düsseldorf Düsseldorf, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00