Attention orienting in response to non-conscious hierarchical arrows: individuals with higher autistic traits differ in their global/local bias Academic Article uri icon


  • One aspect of the social communication impairments that characterize autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include reduced use of often subtle non-verbal social cues. People with ASD, and those with self-reported sub-threshold autistic traits, also show impairments in rapid visual processing of stimuli unrelated to social or emotional properties. Hence, this study sought to investigate whether perceptually non-conscious visual processing is related to autistic traits. A neurotypical sample of thirty young adults completed the Subthreshold Autism Trait Questionnaire and a Posner-like attention cueing task. Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) was employed to render incongruous hierarchical arrow cues perceptually invisible prior to consciously presented targets. This was achieved via a 10 Hz masking stimulus presented to the dominant eye that suppressed information presented to the non-dominant eye. Non-conscious arrows consisted of local arrow elements pointing in one direction, and forming a global arrow shape pointing in the opposite direction. On each trial, the cue provided either a valid or invalid cue for the spatial location of the subsequent target, depending on which level (global or local) received privileged attention. A significant autism-trait group by global cue validity interaction indicated a difference in the extent of non-conscious local/global cueing between groups. Simple effect analyses revealed that whilst participants with lower autistic traits showed a global arrow cueing effect, those with higher autistic traits demonstrated a small local arrow cueing effect. These results suggest that non-conscious processing biases in local/global attention may be related to individual differences in autistic traits.

publication date

  • 2017