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The Development of Visual Processing in Autism


Dr. Kirsten O’Hearn, PhD, University of Pittsburgh

Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01)


Object recognition is an essential function of the human visual system. People with autism may display atypical object recognition, especially with certain objects (e.g., animates, f
s). The studies define the developmental trajectory of object recognition, and explore how development is atypical in autism. Recent evidence indicates that the structure and the function of occipitotemproal areas continues to mature through adolescence, suggesting that object recognition skills supported by these brain regions show prolonged maturation. However, it is not yet clear what aspects of object recognition are maturing during this time.  


The present application proposes to:

1.       Identify components of object recognition that develop late

2.       Characterize changes in brain function related to this behavioral development

3.       Describe atypical object recognition skills in autism


Initial behavioral studies will test possible correlates of this late maturation on brain function, including improved recognition of individuals and a shift from relying on features to configural or holistic information. A neuroimaging study will then examine the hypothesis that increased skill using configural information underlies late age-related changes in functional activation. In addition to characterizing typical development, we will examine the deficits in object recognition in people with autism.



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2006 CeFAR at the University of Pittsburgh • Site last updated November, 2008