Ensemble perception of emotions in autistic and typical children and adolescents, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, (24), 51-62.

Ensemble perception, the ability to assess automatically the summary of large amounts of information presented in visual scenes, is available early in typical development. This ability might be compromised in autistic children, who are thought to present limitations in maintaining summary statistics representations for the recent history of sensory input. Here we examined ensemble perception of facial emotional expressions in 35 autistic children, 30 age- and ability-matched typical children and 25 typical adults. Participants received three tasks: a) an ‘ensemble’ emotion discrimination task; b) a baseline (single-face) emotion discrimination task; and c) a facial expression identification task. Children performed worse than adults on all three tasks. Unexpectedly, autistic and typical children were, on average, indistinguishable in their precision and accuracy on all three tasks. Computational modelling suggested that, on average, autistic and typical children used ensemble-encoding strategies to a similar extent; but ensemble perception was related to non-verbal reasoning abilities in autistic but not in typical children. Eye-movement data also showed no group differences in the way children attended to the stimuli. Our combined findings suggest that the abilities of autistic and typical children for ensemble perception of emotions are comparable on average.

Visual information from observing grasping movement in allocentric and egocentric perspectives: development in typical children, Exp Brain Res.

Development of the motor system lags behind that of the visual system and might delay some visual properties more closely linked to action. We measured the developmental trajectory of the discrimination of object size from observation of the biological motion of a grasping action in egocentric and allocentric viewpoints (observing action of others or self), in children and adolescents from 5 to 18 years of age. Children of 5-7 years of age performed the task at chance, indicating a delayed ability to understand the goal of the action. We found a progressive improvement in the ability of discrimination from 9 to 18 years, which parallels the development of fine motor control. Only after 9 years of age did we observe an advantage for the egocentric view, as previously reported for adults. Given that visual and haptic sensitivity of size discrimination, as well as biological motion, are mature in early adolescence, we interpret our results as reflecting immaturity of the influence of the motor system on visual perception.

Spatiotopic coding during dynamic head tilt, J Neurophysiol, 2 (117), 808-817.

Humans maintain a stable representation of the visual world effortlessly, despite constant movements of the eyes, head, and body, across multiple planes. Whereas visual stability in the face of saccadic eye movements has been intensely researched, fewer studies have investigated retinal image transformations induced by head movements, especially in the frontal plane. Unlike head rotations in the horizontal and sagittal planes, tilting the head in the frontal plane is only partially counteracted by torsional eye movements and consequently induces a distortion of the retinal image to which we seem to be completely oblivious. One possible mechanism aiding perceptual stability is an active reconstruction of a spatiotopic map of the visual world, anchored in allocentric coordinates. To explore this possibility, we measured the positional motion aftereffect (PMAE; the apparent change in position after adaptation to motion) with head tilts of approximately 42 degrees between adaptation and test (to dissociate retinal from allocentric coordinates). The aftereffect was shown to have both a retinotopic and spatiotopic component. When tested with unpatterned Gaussian blobs rather than sinusoidal grating stimuli, the retinotopic component was greatly reduced, whereas the spatiotopic component remained. The results suggest that perceptual stability may be maintained at least partially through mechanisms involving spatiotopic coding.

Hemispheric language organization after congenital left brain lesions: A comparison between functional transcranial Doppler and functional MRI, J Neuropsychol.

This study investigated whether functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound (fTCD) is a suitable tool for studying hemispheric lateralization of language in patients with pre-perinatal left hemisphere (LH) lesions and right hemiparesis. Eighteen left-hemisphere-damaged children and young adults and 18 healthy controls were assessed by fTCD and fMRI to evaluate hemispheric activation during two language tasks: a fTCD animation description task and a fMRI covert rhyme generation task. Lateralization indices (LIs), measured by the two methods, differed significantly between the two groups, for a clear LH dominance in healthy participants and a prevalent activation of right hemisphere in more than 80% of brain-damaged patients. Distribution of participants in terms of left, right, and bilateral lateralization was highly concordant between fTCD and fMRI values. Moreover, right hemisphere language dominance in patients with left hemispheric lesions was significantly associated with severity of cortical and subcortical damage in LH. This study suggests that fTCD is an easily applicable tool that might be a valid alternative to fMRI for large-scale studies of patients with congenital brain lesions.

Autism is associated with reduced ability to interpret grasping actions of others, Sci Rep, 1 (7), 12687.

We investigated the ability of children with ASD to discriminate a small cylinder from a large cube by observing a point-light movie of an actor grasping the object, either from an allocentric or egocentric viewpoint (observing action of others or self). Compared with typically developing controls, high functioning autistic children showed a strong selective impairment in this task, but only with the allocentric viewpoint, where thresholds were twice as high: egocentric thresholds were similar to age- and ability-matched controls. The magnitude of the impairment correlated strongly with the degree of symptomology (R2 = 0.5). The results suggest that children with ASD might be impaired in their ability to predict and infer the consequences of others’ movements, which could be related to the social-communicative deficits often reported in autism.