Autism-spectrum traits in neurotypicals predict the embodiment of manipulation knowledge about object concepts: Evidence from eyetracking.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Sensorimotor-based theories of cognition predict that even subtle developmental motor differences, such as those characterizing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), impact how we represent the meaning of manipulable objects (e.g., faucet). Here, we test 85 neurotypical participants, who varied widely on the Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a measure intended to capture variability in ASD characteristics in the general adult population (participant scores were all below the clinical threshold for autism). Participants completed a visual world eyetracking task designed to assess the activation of conceptual representations of manipulable objects. Participants heard words referring to manually manipulable objects (e.g., faucet) while we recorded their eye movements to arrays of four objects: the named object, a related object typically manipulated similarly (e.g., jar), and two unrelated objects. Consistent with prior work, we observed more looks to the related object than to the unrelated ones (i.e., a manipulation-relatedness effect). This effect likely reflects the overlapping conceptual representations of objects sharing manipulation characteristics (e.g., faucet and jar), due to embodied sensorimotor properties being part of their representations. Critically, we observed-among typically developed young adults-that as AQ scores increased, manipulation-relatedness effects decreased. In contrast, in a visual control condition, in which a target object was paired with related objects of a similar shape (e.g., snake and rope), relatedness effects increased with AQ scores. The results show that AQ scores can predict variation in how object-concept representations are activated for typically developed individuals. More speculatively, they are consistent with the hypothesis that in individuals with ASD, differences in object-concept representations emerge at least in part via differences in sensorimotor experience.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Davis, CP; Eigsti, I-M; Healy, R; Joergensen, GH; Yee, E

Published Date

  • January 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 17 / 7

Start / End Page

  • e0268069 -

PubMed ID

  • 35877618

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC9312413

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1932-6203

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1932-6203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pone.0268069


  • eng