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New Perspectives on Autism published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences

When the world becomes ‘too real’: a Bayesian explanation of autistic perception

Liz Pellicano and David Burr

Perceptual experience is influenced both by incoming sensory information and prior knowledge about the world, a concept recently formalised within Bayesian decision theory. We propose that Bayesian models can be applied to autism, a neurodevelopmental condition with atypicalities in sensation and perception, to pinpoint fundamental differences in perceptual mechanisms. We suggest specifically that attenuated Bayesian priors, ‘hypo-priors’, may be responsible for the unique perceptual experience of autistic people, leading to a tendency to perceive the world more accurately rather than modulated by prior experience. In this account, we consider how hypo-priors might explain key features of autism, the broad range of sensory and other non-social atypicalities, in addition to the phenomenological differences in autistic perception.

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