Perception Journal Club

A new step towards understanding Embedded Figures Test performance in the autism spectrum: The radial frequency search task.

The Embedded Figure Test (EFT) requires locating a simple shape embedded within a background of over-lapping target-irrelevant scene elements. Observers with autism, or those with high levels of autistic-like traits, typically outperform matched comparison groups on the EFT. This research investigated the critical visual properties which give rise to this improved performance. The EFT is a search task and so here a radial frequency (RF) search task was created to directly explore efficacy of visual search and also the influence of element overlap on performance. In all conditions, the task was to detect whether the target RF3 (a triangular shape chosen for its visual properties) was present among a number of distracter RF4 (a square shape) patterns. The conditions employed were: ‘singles’, where all the patterns were spatially discrete, ‘pairs’, where two overlapping elements formed each cluster, and ‘quads’, comprising four over-lapping elements per cluster. Compared to students scoring low on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ; n = 27), those scoring high on the AQ (n = 23) were faster on the EFT and also significantly less influenced by increasing set size of the stimulus array in all RF search task conditions. However, the group difference in RF search performance was unaffected by the amount of stimulus overlap. Thus a simple search task is sufficient to detect a performance advantage associated with higher levels of autistic traits and has the advantages of a solid footing in visual theory and being readily repeatable for the purpose of assessing performance variability and change with interventions.