PERCEPTION JOURNAL CLUB
Monday February 25th 2008, 4:00pm
THE PERCEPTION OF RATIONAL, GOAL-DIRECTED ACTION IN NONHUMAN PRIMATES
Humans are capable of making inferences about other individuals’ intentions and goals by evaluating their actions in relation to the constraints imposed by the environment. This capacity enables humans to go beyond the surface appearance of behavior to draw inferences about an individual’s mental states. Presently unclear is whether this capacity is uniquely human or is shared with other animals. We show that cotton-top tamarins, rhesus macaques, and chimpanzees all make spontaneous inferences about a human experimenter’s goal by attending to the environmental constraints that guide rational action. These findings rule out simple associative accounts of action perception and show that our capacity to infer rational, goal-directed action likely arose at least as far back as the New World monkeys, some 40 million years ago.
PRESENTED BY
Karin Petrini

4:15pm: ABNORMAL ADAPTIVE FACE-CODING MECHANISMS IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
In low-level vision, exquisite sensitivity to variation in luminance is achieved by adaptive mechanisms that adjust neural sensitivity to the prevailing luminance level. In high-level vision, adaptive mechanisms contribute to our remarkable ability to distinguish thousands of similar faces. A clear example of this sort of adaptive coding is the face-identity aftereffect, in which adaptation to a particular face biases perception toward the opposite identity. Here we investigated face adaptation in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by asking them to discriminate between two face identities, with and without prior adaptation to opposite-identity faces. The ASD group discriminated the identities with the same precision as did the age- and ability-matched control group, showing that face identification per se was unimpaired. However, children with ASD showed significantly less adaptation than did their typical peers, with the amount of adaptation correlating significantly with current symptomatology, and face aftereffects of children with elevated symptoms only one third those of controls. These results show that although children with ASD can learn a simple discrimination between two identities, adaptive face-coding mechanisms are severely compromised, offering a new explanation for previously reported face-perception difficulties and possibly for some of the core social deficits in ASD.
PRESENTED BY
David R. Simmons