Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 450–466 | Cite as

Ultra-Rapid Categorization of Meaningful Real-Life Scenes in Adults With and Without ASD

  • Steven Vanmarcke
  • Ruth Van Der Hallen
  • Kris Evers
  • Ilse Noens
  • Jean Steyaert
  • Johan Wagemans
Original Paper


In comparison to typically developing (TD) individuals, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) appear to be worse in the fast extraction of the global meaning of a situation or picture. Ultra-rapid categorization [paradigm developed by Thorpe et al. (Nature 381:520–522, 1996)] involves such global information processing. We therefore tested a group of adults with and without ASD, without intellectual disability, on a set of ultra-rapid categorization tasks. Individuals with ASD performed equally well as TD individuals except when the task required the categorization of social interactions. These results argue against a general deficit in ultra-rapid gist perception in people with ASD, while suggesting a more specific problem with the fast processing of information about social relations.


Autism spectrum disorder Vision research Ultra-rapid categorization Theory of mind Reverse hierarchy theory 



This work was supported by the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) to Steven Vanmarcke and long-term structural funding by the Flemish Government (METH/08/02) to Johan Wagemans. The authors would like to thank Nadège Macé, Michelle Fabre-Thorpe and Simon Thorpe for providing us with their stimulus material used in previous papers (e.g., Macé et al. 2009). A substantial subset of these images was used in the animal/vehicle task. We also thank Maarten Demeyer and Bart Machilsen for their help with programming in PsychoPy, Thomas Schouteden for his assistance with data collection and all participants for their time and contribution to this research.

Author Contributions

Author contribution SV conceived of the study, participated in its design, coordination, measurement and analysis. He also drafted the manuscript; RVDH, KE and JW participated in the design and interpretation of the data; KE participated in the design and interpretation of the data; IN participated in the design and interpretation of the data; JS participated in the design and interpretation of the data; JW participated in the design, analysis and interpretation of the data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Vanmarcke
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ruth Van Der Hallen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Kris Evers
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ilse Noens
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Jean Steyaert
    • 2
    • 3
  • Johan Wagemans
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, Department of Brain and CognitionUniversity of Leuven (KU Leuven)LouvainBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Child PsychiatryUPC-KU LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  3. 3.Leuven Autism Research (LAuRes)KU LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  4. 4.Parenting and Special Education Research UnitKU LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  5. 5.Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics UnitMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA

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