Special treatment of prediction errors in autism spectrum disorder

Todorova, G. , Pollick, F. E. and Muckli, L. (2021) Special treatment of prediction errors in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 163, 108070. (doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2021.108070)

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For autistic individuals, sensory stimulation can be experienced as overwhelming. Models of predictive coding postulate that cortical mechanisms disamplify predictable information and amplify prediction errors that surpass a defined precision level. In autism, the neuronal processing is putting an inflexibly high precision on prediction errors according to the HIPPEA theory (High, Inflexible Precision of Prediction Errors in Autism). We used an apparent motion paradigm to test this prediction. In apparent motion paradigms, the illusory motion of an object creates a prediction about where and when an internally generated token would be moving along the apparent motion trace. This illusion facilitates the perception of a flashing stimulus (target) appearing in-time with the apparent motion token and is perceived as a predictable event (predictable target). In contrast, a flashing stimulus appearing out-of-time with the apparent motion illusion is an unpredictable target that is less often detected even though it produces a prediction error signal. If a prediction error does not surpass a given precision threshold the stimulation event is discounted and therefore less often detected than predictable tokens. In autism, the precision threshold is lower and the same prediction errors (unpredictable target) triggers a detection similar to that of a predictable flash stimulus. To test this hypothesis, we recruited 11 autistic males and 9 neurotypical matched controls. The participants were tasked to detect flashing stimuli placed on an apparent motion trace either in-time or out of time with the apparent motion illusion. Descriptively, 66% (6/9) neurotypical and (64%) 7/11 autistic participants were better at detecting predictable targets. The prediction established by illusory motion appears to assist autistic and neurotypical individuals equally in the detection of predictable over unpredictable targets. Importantly, 55% (6/11) of autistic participants had faster responses for unpredictable targets, whereas only 22% (2/9) neurotypicals had faster responses to unpredictable compared to predictable targets. Hence, these tentative results suggest that for autistic participants, unpredictable targets produce an above threshold prediction error, which leads to faster response. This difference in unpredictable target detection can be encapsulated under the HIPPEA theory, suggesting that precision setting could be aberrant in autistic individuals with respect to prediction errors. These tentative results should be considered in light of the small sample. For this reason, we provide the full set of materials necessary to replicate and extend the results.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This work was funded by a +3 studentship award from the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science of the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Number: ES/P000681/1, Project Number: 1943784), UK to GKT.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Pollick, Professor Frank and Todorova, Ms Greta and Muckli, Professor Lars
Creator Roles:
Todorova, G.Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Investigation, Data curation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing, Visualization, Project administration, Funding acquisition
Pollick, F.Writing – review and editing, Supervision
Muckli, L.Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing – review and editing, Supervision
Authors: Todorova, G., Pollick, F. E., and Muckli, L.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Neuropsychologia
ISSN (Online):1873-3514
Published Online:22 October 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 The Authors
First Published:First published in Neuropsychologia 163:108070
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
303166Scottish Graduate School Science Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP)Mary Beth KneafseyEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/P000681/1SS - Academic & Student Administration
307180Human Brain Project SGA_3Lars MuckliEuropean Commission (EC)945539NP - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi)
311400Layer-specific cortical feedback dynamics - Human Ultra-High Resolution functional Brain Imaging for Predictive Brain FunctionsLars MuckliBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)BB/V010956/1NP - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi)