The relation between the degree of synaesthesia, autistic traits, and local/global visual perception

Burghoorn, F., Dingemanse, M., Van Lier, R., & Van Leeuwen, T. M. (2020). The relation between the degree of synaesthesia, autistic traits, and local/global visual perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50, 12-29. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-04222-7.
In individuals with synaesthesia specific sensory stimulation leads to unusual concurrent perceptions in the same or a different modality. Recent studies have demonstrated a high co-occurrence between synaesthesia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition also characterized by altered perception. A potentially shared characteristic of synaesthesia and ASD is a bias towards local (detail-focussed) perception. We investigated whether a bias towards local perception is indeed shared between synaesthesia and ASD. In a neurotypical population, we studied the relation between the degree of autistic traits (measured by the AQ) and the degree of grapheme-colour synaesthesia (measured by a consistency task), as well as whether both are related to a local bias in tasks assessing local/global visual perception. A positive correlation between total AQ scores and the degree of synaesthesia was found. Our study extends previous studies that found a high ASD-synaesthesia co-occurrence in clinical populations. Consistent with the hypothesized local perceptual bias in ASD, scores on the AQ-attention to detail subscale were related to increased performance on an Embedded Figures Task (EFT), and we found evidence for a relation to reduced susceptibility to visual illusions. We found no relation between autistic traits and local visual perception in a motion coherence task (MCT). Also, no relation between synaesthesia and local visual perception was found, although a reduced susceptibility to visual illusions resembled the results obtained for AQ-atttention to detail subscale. A suggested explanation for the absence of a relationship between the degree of synaesthesia and a local bias is that a possible local bias might be more pronounced in supra-threshold synaesthetes (compared to neurotypicals).
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