Pomè, A., Karaminis, T., & Burr, D. C.

Autistic individuals show less grouping-induced bias in numerosity judgments

Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2, 1–9.

https://doi.org/10.3389/frcha.2023.1202032 Download

Introduction: When items are connected together, they tend to be perceived as an integrated whole rather than as individual dots, causing a strong underestimation of the numerosity of the ensemble. Previous evidence on grouping-induced biases of numerosity has shown a dependency on autistic-like personality traits in neurotypical adults, with a weaker tendency for grouping into meaningful segmented objects in individuals with strong autistic traits. Here we asked whether this result would generalize to the autistic population. Methods: Twenty-two adults with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and 22 matched neurotypical controls judged the numerosity of clouds of dot-pairs connected by thin lines. Results: Results showed no significant group difference in discrimination precision, suggesting that both groups were equally capable performing the task. However, while connecting pairs of dots at moderate numerosities caused large changes in apparent numerosity in the neurotypical controls, particularly those with low autistic-like traits, it had little effect in the group of autistic participants, suggesting significant differences in numerosity estimation between autistic and neurotypical perception. Consistent with earlier studies, the magnitude of the effect covaried strongly with AQ-defined autistic traits in the neurotypical range, reinforcing the idea that autistic traits predict the strength of grouping. Discussion: These results provide strong support for the theories of autistic perception that highlight dissimilarities in global vs. local processing, and open the door to study grouping mechanisms indirectly, by asking participants to report on the apparent numerosity rather than on the grouping organization per se.