Action perception is intact in autism spectrum disorder

James P Cusack, Justin H G Williams, Peter Neri

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58 Citations (Scopus)
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Autistic traits span a wide spectrum of behavioral departures from typical function. Despite the heterogeneous nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there have been attempts at formulating unified theoretical accounts of the associated impairments in social cognition. A class of prominent theories capitalizes on the link between social interaction and visual perception: effective interaction with others often relies on discrimination of subtle nonverbal cues. It has been proposed that individuals with ASD may rely on poorer perceptual representations of other people's actions as returned by dysfunctional visual circuitry and that this, in turn, may lead to less effective interpretation of those actions for social behavior. It remains unclear whether such perceptual deficits exist in ASD: the evidence currently available is limited to specific aspects of action recognition, and the reported deficits are often attributable to cognitive factors that may not be strictly visual (e.g., attention). We present results from an exhaustive set of measurements spanning the entire action processing hierarchy, from motion detection to action interpretation, designed to factor out effects that are not selectively relevant to this function. Our results demonstrate that the ASD perceptual system returns functionally intact signals for interpreting other people's actions adequately; these signals can be accessed effectively when autistic individuals are prompted and motivated to do so under controlled conditions. However, they may fail to exploit them adequately during real-life social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1849-1857
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
Early online date4 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance:10/11/2014.

Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/351849-09$15.00/0.

Copyright of all material published in The Journal of Neuroscience remains with the authors. The authors grant the Society for Neuroscience an exclusive license to publish their work for the first 6 months. After 6 months the work becomes available to the public to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.


  • biological motion
  • enactive mind
  • human agency
  • inversion effect
  • mirror neuron
  • simulation theory


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