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Publication Detail
Big heads, small details and autism.
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    White S, O'Reilly H, Frith U
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    1274, 1281
  • Journal:
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Print ISSN:
Autism is thought to be associated with a bias towards detail-focussed processing. While the cognitive basis remains controversial, one strong hypothesis is that there are high processing costs associated with changing from local into global processing. A possible neural mechanism underlying this processing style is abnormal neural connectivity; specifically reduced structural or functional connectivity between brain regions might lead to good exemplar-based processing but poor generalisation. Abnormal neural connectivity has also been suggested to account for the increased incidence of macrocephaly in autism (increased head/brain size). The present study therefore investigated the effect of head size on the ability to switch between global and local processing in autism. 49 high-functioning 7-12 year olds with autism (12 with macrocephaly) were compared to 25 normally developing children in their performance on a Local-Global Switching task. Those children with autism who also had macrocephaly showed a greater processing cost when switching into global processing, or 'zooming out', than both the remaining children with autism and the control children. A second experiment revealed that macrocephaly in the context of normal development is not associated with difficulty switching into global processing but rather occurs in children who are physically large. Macrocephaly in the context of autism may therefore be a biological marker of abnormal neural connectivity, and of a local processing bias.
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