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It has been suggested that the locus of selective attention (early vs. late in processing) is dependent on the perceptual load of the task. When perceptual load is low, irrelevant distractors are processed (late selection), whereas when perceptual load is high, distractor interference disappears (early selection). Attentional abnormalities have long been reported within autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and this study is the first to examine the effect of perceptual load on selective attention in this population. Fourteen adults with ASD and 23 adults without ASD performed a selective attention task with varying perceptual loads. Compared with the non-ASD group, the ASD group required higher levels of perceptual load to successfully ignore irrelevant distractors; moreover, the ASD group did not show any general reduction in performance speed or accuracy. These results suggest enhanced perceptual capacity in the ASD group and are consistent with previous observations regarding superior visual search abilities among individuals with ASD.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Sci

Publication Date





1388 - 1393


Adolescent, Adult, Aptitude, Attention, Child, Child Development Disorders, Pervasive, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Orientation, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Young Adult