Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 155–163 | Cite as

Elephants in Pyjamas: Testing the Weak Central Coherence Account of Autism Spectrum Disorders Using a Syntactic Disambiguation Task

  • N. G. Riches
  • T. Loucas
  • G. Baird
  • T. Charman
  • E. Simonoff
Original Paper


According to the weak central coherence (CC) account individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) exhibit enhanced local processing and weak part-whole integration. CC was investigated in the verbal domain. Adolescents, recruited using a 2 (ASD status) by 2 (language impairment status) design, completed an aural forced choice comprehension task involving syntactically ambiguous sentences. Half the picture targets depicted the least plausible interpretation, resulting in longer RTs across groups. These were assumed to reflect local processing. There was no ASD by plausibility interaction and consequently little evidence for weak CC in the verbal domain when conceptualised as enhanced local processing. Furthermore, there was little evidence that the processing of syntactically ambiguous sentences differed as a function of ASD or language-impairment status.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) Developmental language impairment Adolescents 



The authors wish to thank Autism Speaks/The National Alliance for Autism Research for their generous funding; the parents/guardians and individuals who participated; and Susie Chandler, Abigail Davison-Jenkins, Ann Ozsivadjian, and Vicky Slonims for their help with assessment.

Author Contributions

NR conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, conducted the data analysis, and drafted the manuscript. TL, GB, TC & ES participated in the design and coordination, contributed towards the analysis, and helped to draft the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (South East Multicentre Research Ethics Committee (00/01/50) and De Montfort University Research Ethics Committee) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to report.

Supplementary material

10803_2015_2560_MOESM1_ESM.doc (92 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 91 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. G. Riches
    • 1
  • T. Loucas
    • 2
  • G. Baird
    • 3
  • T. Charman
    • 4
  • E. Simonoff
    • 4
  1. 1.Newcastle UniversityNewcastleUK
  2. 2.Reading UniversityBerkshireUK
  3. 3.Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and Kings Health PartnersLondonUK
  4. 4.Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), Kings College LondonLondonUK

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