Karaminis, T., Cicchini, G. M., Neil, L., Cappagli, G., Aagten-Murphy, D., Burr, D., et al. (2016).

Central tendency effects in time interval reproduction in autism, Sci Rep, (6), 28570.

Central tendency, the tendency of judgements of quantities (lengths, durations etc.) to gravitate towards their mean, is one of the most robust perceptual effects. A Bayesian account has recently suggested that central tendency reflects the integration of noisy sensory estimates with prior knowledge representations of a mean stimulus, serving to improve performance. The process is flexible, so prior knowledge is weighted more heavily when sensory estimates are imprecise, requiring more integration to reduce noise. In this study we measure central tendency in autism to evaluate a recent theoretical hypothesis suggesting that autistic perception relies less on prior knowledge representations than typical perception. If true, autistic children should show reduced central tendency than theoretically predicted from their temporal resolution. We tested autistic and age- and ability-matched typical children in two child-friendly tasks: (1) a time interval reproduction task, measuring central tendency in the temporal domain; and (2) a time discrimination task, assessing temporal resolution. Central tendency reduced with age in typical development, while temporal resolution improved. Autistic children performed far worse in temporal discrimination than the matched controls. Computational simulations suggested that central tendency was much less in autistic children than predicted by theoretical modelling, given their poor temporal resolution.