January 22, 2011

FOCUS ME NOT By: Ace de Guzman Ligsay

We march around the PHAN Building as if we are the best undergraduate students of the college. We bear in mind that we have the crown of owning everything that other CSSP students do not have-own building, own colorful and air conditioned classrooms, own parking space and own yearbook. But we forget, intentionally or unintentionally, as students of the best Psychology undergraduate program in the country, to start awareness campaigns regarding abnormal psychological conditions. This is the Pride we should have and carry on- catalyst of social unconditional acceptance to the psychologically challenged individuals.

FOCUS ME NOT- Exploring the Visual Attention Aberrations of our Autistic Friends

Textbook describes autism as a neural development disorder characterized by withdrawal of contact from other people, repetitive actions and difficulty telling what emotions others are experiencing in social situations. According to Grelotti, there is a huge difference in both behavior and brain processing between autistic and non-autistic people. As highlighted by researches of Ami Klin (2003) autistic people cannot solve reasoning problems when put in actual social situations. Psychological science agrees that autistic people perceived the environment differently than normal observers. Autistic people focus more on random things, while non-autistic people can read facial expressions, detailed movements especially minute movements of the face and the eyes. Kevin Pelphrey and coworkers (2005) attempted to measure brain activity in the superior temporal sulcus, an area responsible on how other people direct their gaze in social situations. This study yielded a conclusion that the difference may have to do with how observers interpret people’s intention (Goldstein, 2007)

As established earlier, individuals with autism tend to focus excessively on certain stimuli that are irrelevant to a non-autistic observer. A study of Townsend (1996) provided an evidence for slowed spatial orienting of attention in autism. They tested a group of autistic subjects and age-matched normal controls performed a traditional cueing task in which attention-related response facilitation is indexed by speed of target detection using a traditional task that depended on accuracy of response (target discriminations) rather than speed of response. According to the researchers, this experimental set-up let the division of time to process and responds to target information from the time to move and engage (orient) attention. The results were consistent with the previous observations that patients with autism were slow to shift attention between and within modalities.

According doctor-colleagues Plaisted and Davis, Children with autism exhibit typical attentional modulation of static information, but have difficulty with modulating dynamic information. For example, they find it hard to see sudden shift of colors, sceneries and facial expressions in their favorite Dora the Explorer TV show

Autistic people find themselves jailed in a world of pieces. It is so strange and confusing how a person is unable to shift gaze quickly and recognize emotions, and minute movements. Social interactions of autistic individuals are limited to what they can see, to what they can comprehend. We can attribute their problems on visual attention and  slowed spatial orienting of attention to their withdrawal from our world. Slow gaze shifting theory explains the inability of autistic individuals to comprehend and appreciate the complex system of social interactions by missing out important nonverbal communication cues like facial expressions, eye movements and fast facial movements.

As Psychology majors, we are in the forefront of raising awareness regarding autism.
Autism Awareness Campaign Video from YOUTUBE. Chek this out:)


Grelotti, D.J., Klin, A.J., Gauthier, I., & Schultz, R.T. (2002). Social interest and the development of cortical space face specialization: What autism teaches us about face processing. Developmental Psychobiology, 40, 213-225.

Goldstein, E. (2007). Something to Consider: Attention in Autism. Sensation and Perception, 148-149.

Klin,A,. Jones, W., Schultz, R., & Volkmar, F. (2003). The enactive mind, or from actions to cognition: Lessons from autism. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 345-360

Plaisted, K.C. (2001). Reduced generalization: An alternative to weak central coherence. In: Burack, J.A., Charman, A., Yirmiya, N., & Zelazo, P.R. (Eds).Development and Autism: Perspectives from theory and research. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Pelphrey, K.A., J.P., &McCarthy, G. (2005). Neural basis of eye gaze processing deficits in autism. Brain, 128, 1038-1048

Townsend J, Harris NS, Courchesne E (1996). J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 1996 Nov;2(6):541-50.

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