Local and global processing in savant artists with autism

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Pring, Linda ; Ryder, Nicola ; Crane, Laura ; Hermelin, Beate (2010)
  • Publisher: Pion

Abstract. We explored the hypothesis that an enhanced local processing style is characteristic of both art and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by examining local and global processing in savant artists with ASD. Specifically, savant artists were compared against non-talented individuals with ASD or mild/moderate learning difficulties (MLD), as well as artistically talented or non- talented students, on the block-design task and meaningful and abstract versions of the embedded figures test (EFT). Results demonstrated that there were no significant differences between the meaningful and abstract versions of the EFT, in any of the groups. This suggests that the primary process governing performance on this task was perceptual (local), rather than conceptual (global). More interestingly, the savant artists performed above the level of the ASD and MLD groups on the block-design test, but not the EFT. Despite both the block-design task and the EFT measuring local processing abilities, we suggest that this result is due to the block-design task being an active construction task (requiring the conversion of a visual input into a motor output), whereas the EFT is a passive recognition task. Therefore, although an enhanced local processing style is an important aspect of savant artistic talent, motor control also appears to be a necessary skill.
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