A Two-Factor Structure to the Systemizing Quotient-Revised Differentially Predicts Susceptibility to Local and Global Visual Cues
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Although Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are often characterized by deficits in social domains, increasing evidence suggests that individuals with ASD have perceptual biases associated with a shift from reliance on global to local visual cues. This dissertation provides evidence for a two-factor structure to the systemizing trait of autism, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient-Revised (SQ-R), which differentially predicts this perceptual shift in the general population. Specifically, an Analytical Tendencies factor within the SQ-R was found to predict attenuated susceptibility to the global contextual cues that drive the rod-and-frame illusion (RFI), while an Insistence on Sameness factor was associated with heightened sensitivity to the local cues that drive the RFI. Furthermore, in a clinical sample of individuals with ASD, both Analytical Tendencies and Insistence on Sameness factors were found to be hyper-expressed, suggesting that perceptual biases in ASD populations can be explained, in part, by heightened systemizing tendencies. In addition, the Analytical Tendencies factor was also found to predict enhanced performance on the Embedded Figures Task, a visual search task commonly used to assess perceptual abilities in ASD. Furthermore, enhanced performance on this task was associated with reduced susceptibility to the global contextual effects of the RFI, suggesting that superior search performance in individuals with ASD may be due, in part, to attenuated interference from the contextual gestalt of the search array. Importantly, the relationship between heightened systemizing tendencies and attenuated use of global contextual cues was found to reflect a disinclination among high systemizers to use such cues and not a general impairment in processing such cues. Specifically, when contextual cues that benefit performance are available, high systemizers can use these cues to the same extent as low systemizers. Together, these findings implicate a two-factor structure to the SQ-R that is differentially predictive of distinct types of visual processing associated with ASD.