Neural Correlates of Social Perception in Children with Autism: Local versus Global Preferences

Abbey J. Herringshaw, Sandhya L. Kumar, Kaitlyn Noel Rody, Rajesh K. Kana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The Weak Central Coherence account of autism spectrum disorders posits that individuals with ASD utilize a detail-oriented information processing bias. While this local bias is helpful in visual search tasks, ASD individuals falter in social cognition tasks where coherence is advantageous. The present study examined the neural correlates of Weak Central Coherence in ASD during visual and social processing. Fifteen ASD and sixteen typically developing children/adolescents completed a social/visual information processing task in an fMRI scanner. The stimuli consisted of human characters, composed of geometrical shapes, displaying different emotions. In the locally oriented Shape condition, participants indicated whether a given shape was present in a figure. In the Emotion condition, participants identified the emotion conveyed by the character in the figure at the global level. Whole-brain within- and between-group activation and seed-to-voxel functional connectivity analyses were conducted in SPM12 and the CONN toolbox. The ASD group was significantly faster in shape identification, but less accurate in emotion identification. The TD group showed significantly increased areas of activity over the ASD group in the Shape task in regions associated with executive control, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and middle frontal gyrus, suggesting increased interference from the global/social information. During the Emotion condition, the ASD group showed decreased connectivity between frontal and posterior regions and between body perception and motor networks, suggesting a possible difference in mirroring. The findings suggest that social cognitive factors, not visual processing biases, underlie the observed behavioral differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-59
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Dec 15 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • autism
  • central coherence
  • fMRI
  • perception
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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