Anomalous Perception of Biological Motion in Autism: A Conceptual Review and Meta-Analysis


Despite its popularity, the construct of biological motion (BM) and its putative anomalies in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are not completely clarified. In this article, we present a meta-analysis investigating the putative anomalies of BM perception in ASD. Through a systematic literature search, we found 30 studies that investigated BM perception in both ASD and typical developing peers by using point-light display stimuli. A general meta-analysis including all these studies showed a moderate deficit of individuals with ASD in BM processing, but also a high heterogeneity. This heterogeneity was explored in different additional meta-analyses where studies were grouped according to levels of complexity of the BM task employed (first-order, direct and instrumental), and according to the manipulation of low-level perceptual features (spatial vs. temporal) of the control stimuli. Results suggest that the most severe deficit in ASD is evident when perception of BM is serving a secondary purpose (e.g., inferring intentionality/action/emotion) and, interestingly, that temporal dynamics of stimuli are an important factor in determining BM processing anomalies in ASD. Our results question the traditional understanding of BM anomalies in ASD as a monolithic deficit and suggest a paradigm shift that deconstructs BM into distinct levels of processing and specific spatio-temporal subcomponents.

Scientific Reports, 41, 4576
Valentina Parma
Valentina Parma
Research Assistant Professor in Psychology