How are attention, learning, and social cognition related on the non-clinical autistic spectrum?

Joshua C. Skewes, Tony Kemp, Bryan Paton, Jakob Hohwy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – and autistic traits more generally – are associated with a heterogeneous pattern of differences in cognitive function. These include differences in associative learning, attention, and processing of social information. All three cognitive functions have importance in clinical, educational, and research contexts. The present study investigates the relationships between these functions in the context of autistic traits in the neurotypical population. In an online study, we asked a group of over 400 people to complete the Autism Spectrum Quotient questionnaire. We also asked participants to complete one of two standard attentional learning paradigms – either a Kamin blocking or an attentional highlighting task. To investigate the relation of attention and learning to social information processing, we incorporated social cues in one of each kind of paradigm. We found Kamin blocking increased with increasing number of autistic traits, in particular the sub-trait attention switching, but only for non-social cues. We found that highlighting decreased with increasing number of traits, in particular the sub-trait communication, but only for social cues. We interpret these findings as evidence of a crucial role for attention in other characteristics of the broader autistic phenotype, and discuss the relevance of these results for cognitive explanations of autistic traits and symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103157
Number of pages12
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

Cite this