High internal noise and poor external noise filtering characterize perception in autism spectrum disorder

Woon Ju Park, Kimberly B. Schauder, Ruyuan Zhang, Loisa Bennetto, Duje Tadin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


An emerging hypothesis postulates that internal noise is a key factor influencing perceptual abilities in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Given fundamental and inescapable effects of noise on nearly all aspects of neural processing, this could be a critical abnormality with broad implications for perception, behavior, and cognition. However, this proposal has been challenged by both theoretical and empirical studies. A crucial question is whether and how internal noise limits perception in ASD, independently from other sources of perceptual inefficiency, such as the ability to filter out external noise. Here, we separately estimated internal noise and external noise filtering in ASD. In children and adolescents with and without ASD, we computationally modeled individuals' visual orientation discrimination in the presence of varying levels of external noise. The results revealed increased internal noise and worse external noise filtering in individuals with ASD. For both factors, we also observed high inter-individual variability in ASD, with only the internal noise estimates significantly correlating with severity of ASD symptoms. We provide evidence for reduced perceptual efficiency in ASD that is due to both increased internal noise and worse external noise filtering, while highlighting internal noise as a possible contributing factor to variability in ASD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17584
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the children and families that participated in this study. The study was supported by an Autism Science Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship 16–006 (to W.P.), R01 EY019295 and T32 EY007125 (to D.T.), R01 DC009439 (to L.B.), a University of Rochester PumpPrimer II award (to D.T. and L.B.), a NASRAD Independent Investigator Grant (to D.T.), and Schmitt Program on Integrative Brain Research (to L.B. and D.T.). The Center for Integrated Research Computing at the University of Rochester provided computing resources.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


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