Talent in autism: hyper-systemising, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity
Baron-Cohen, S., Ashwin, E., Ashwin, C., Tavassoli, T. and Chakrabarti, B. (2009) Talent in autism: hyper-systemising, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364 (1522). pp. 1377-1383. ISSN 0962-8436
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0337
We argue that hyper-systemizing predisposes individuals to show talent, and review evidence that hyper-systemizing is part of the cognitive style of people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC). We then clarify the hyper-systemizing theory, contrasting it to the weak central coherence (WCC) and executive dysfunction (ED) theories. The ED theory has difficulty explaining the existence of talent in ASC. While both hyper-systemizing and WCC theories postulate excellent attention to detail, by itself excellent attention to detail will not produce talent. By contrast, the hyper-systemizing theory argues that the excellent attention to detail is directed towards detecting 'if p, then q' rules (or [input-operation-output] reasoning). Such law-based pattern recognition systems can produce talent in systemizable domains. Finally, we argue that the excellent attention to detail in ASC is itself a consequence of sensory hypersensitivity. We review an experiment from our laboratory demonstrating sensory hypersensitivity detection thresholds in vision. We conclude that the origins of the association between autism and talent begin at the sensory level, include excellent attention to detail and end with hyper-systemizing.