Weak surround suppression of the attentional focus characterizes visual selection in the ventral stream in autism

Luca Ronconi, Simone Gori, Alessandra Federici, Maria Devita, Serena Carna, Maria E. Sali, Massimo Molteni, Luca Casartelli, Andrea Facoetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neurophysiological findings in the typical population demonstrate that spatial scrutiny for visual selection determines a center-surround profile of the attentional focus, which is the result of recurrent processing in the visual system. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manifest several anomalies in their visual selection, with strengths in detail-oriented tasks, but also difficulties in distractor inhibition tasks. Here, we asked whether contradictory aspects of perception in ASD might be due to a different center-surround profile of their attentional focus. In two experiments, we tested two independent samples of children with ASD, comparing them with typically developing (TD) peers. In Experiment 1, we used a psychophysical task that mapped the entire spatial profile of the attentional focus. In Experiment 2, we used dense-array electroencephalography (EEG) to explore its neurophysiological underpinnings. Experiment 1 results showed that the suppression, surrounding the attentional focus, was markedly reduced in children with ASD. Experiment 2 showed that the center-surround profile in TD children resulted in a modulation of the posterior N2 ERP component, with cortical sources in the lateral-occipital and medial/inferior temporal areas. In contrast, children with ASD did not show modulation of the N2 and related activations in the ventral visual stream. Furthermore, behavioural and neurophysiological measures of weaker suppression predicted more severe autistic symptomatology. The present findings, showing an altered center-surround profile during attentional selection, give an important insight to understand superior visual processing in autism as well as the experiencing of sensory overload.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-922
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2018


  • EEG
  • Perception
  • Rehabilitation
  • Source analysis
  • Ventral visual stream

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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