M. Kozhevnikov’s Lab, Harvard / Important ASD Visual Object, Spatial Imagery Differences

Welcome to Maria Kozhevnikov’s Lab

Maria Kozhevnikov currently holds positions as Visiting Associate Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology and as Associate in Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital. Maria’s primary academic appointment is as an Associate Professor of Psychology at the National University of Singapore, Department of Psychology and Communication and New Media Programme.

Maria Kozhevnikov’ labs at Harvard and NUS jointly investigate the neural mechanisms of visual/spatial imagery, as well as individual differences in basic information processing capacities (e.g. the ability to generate, inspect, or transform visual/spatial images). In addition, the lab research focuses on examining how these individual differences affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics and science, as well as in exploring ways to train visual/spatial imagery skills and design learning technologies that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.

NOTE: This research may clear up some of the variation within ASD / Asperger’s. I  identify myself as “object dominant” but also “spatial” (geology requires visual manipulation of objects across scale, relative location and time; I could not imagine not using both types of visual processing in the field of geology.) I’m definitely “verbal as a second language”. I assume each person has a mix of processing preferences that come together in unique ways. 

Object-Spatial Dissociation in Individual Differences in Visual Imagery


Based on recent data from cognitive neuroscience and behavioral research about the existence of two anatomically and neurologically distinct visual, object and spatial visual systems in perception, working memory, and imagery, (Ungerleider, & Mishkin, 1982; Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001), we propose a new framework of individual differences in mental imagery. Specifically, we investigate the dissociation between individual differences in object visualization ability (processing visual information about appearances of objects and scenes in terms of their pictorial properties) and spatial visualization ability (processing visual information about spatial relations between objects or their parts, and performing mental spatial transformations and manipulations) and how these different types of imagery are used in different professional domains (e.g., science, visual arts, architecture).

Our research into the object-spatial dissociation follow three directions:

Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery abilities : while object visualizers score poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excel on object imagery tasks, spatial visualizers score high on spatial imagery tasks but poorly on object imagery tasks (Kozhevnikov, Hegarty, & Mayer, 2002; Kozhevnikov, Kosslyn, & Shephard, 2005; Kozhevnikov, Blazhenkova, & Becker, 2010).
Recently, we designed the Object-Spatial-Verbal Questionnaire ( OSIVQ ) as an assessment tool for distinguishing between object visualizers, spatial visualizers, and verbalizers (Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov, 2009) The OSIVQ assesses different visual style preferences effectively and quickly, which makes it highly useful in applied settings (e.g., education, vocational guidance), and for psychological research (e.g., studying object and spatial visual and verbal processing)

Research (These are links to summaries) 

Emotions: What a Mess! / Physiology, Supernatural Mental State, Words

This drives me “nuts” – emotions ARE physiological responses to the environment; and yet, psychologists (and other sinners) continue to conceive of emotions as “mental or psychological states” and “word objects” that exist somewhere “inside” humans, like colored jelly beans in jar, waiting to be “called on” by their “names”. Worse, other “scientists hah-hah” also continue to confuse “physiology” as arising from some abstract construct or supernatural domain (NT thingie) called emotion.

Physiological Changes Associated with Emotion


The most obvious signs of emotional arousal involve changes in the activity of the visceral motor (autonomic) system (see Chapter 21). Thus, increases or decreases in heart rate, cutaneous blood flow (blushing or turning pale), piloerection, sweating, and gastrointestinal motility can all accompany various emotions. These responses are brought about by changes in activity in the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric components of the visceral motor system, which govern smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands throughout the body. (This is obviously real physical activity of the body, and not a magical, psychological or mental “state”) As discussed in Chapter 21, Walter Cannon argued that intense activity of the sympathetic division of the visceral motor system prepares the animal to fully utilize metabolic and other resources in challenging or threatening situations.

Honestly? I think in the above we have a working description of the ASD / Asperger “emotional” system: NO WORDS. So-called “emotions” are a SOCIALLY GENERATED SYSTEM that utilizes language to EXTERNALLY REGULATE human “reactivity” – that is, the child learns to IDENTIFY it’s physiological response with the vocabulary supplied to it by parents, teachers, other adults and by overhearing human conversation, in which it is immersed from birth.

Conversely, activity of the parasympathetic division (and the enteric division) promotes a building up of metabolic reserves. Cannon further suggested that the natural opposition of the expenditure and storage of resources is reflected in a parallel opposition of the emotions associated with these different physiological states. As Cannon pointed out, “The desire for food and drink, the relish of taking them, all the pleasures of the table are naught in the presence of anger or great anxiety.” (This is the physiological state that ASD / Asperger children “exist in” when having to negotiate the “world of social typicals” The social environment is confusing, frustrating, and alien. Asking us “how we feel” in such a circumstance will produce a “pure” physiological response: anxiety, fear, and the overwhelming desire to escape.)

Activation of the visceral motor system, particularly the sympathetic division, was long considered an all-or-nothing process. Once effective stimuli engaged the system, it was argued, a widespread discharge of all of its components ensued. More recent studies have shown that the responses of the autonomic nervous system are actually quite specific, with different patterns of activation characterizing different situations and their associated emotional states. (What is an emotional state? Emotion words are not emotions: they are language used to parse, identify and “name” the physiologic arousal AS SOCIETY  DICTATES TO BE ACCEPTABLE) Indeed, emotion-specific expressions produced voluntarily can elicit distinct patterns of autonomic activity. For example, if subjects are given muscle-by-muscle instructions that result in facial expressions recognizable as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise without being told which emotion they are simulating, each pattern of facial muscle activity is accompanied by specific and reproducible differences in visceral motor activity (as measured by indices such as heart rate, skin conductance, and skin temperature). Moreover, autonomic responses are strongest when the facial expressions are judged to most closely resemble actual emotional expression and are often accompanied by the subjective experience of that emotion! One interpretation of these findings is that when voluntary facial expressions are produced, signals in the brain engage not only the motor cortex but also some of the circuits that produce emotional states. Perhaps this relationship helps explain how good actors can be so convincing. Nevertheless, we are quite adept at recognizing the difference between a contrived facial expression and the spontaneous smile that accompanies a pleasant emotional state. (Since modern humans are notoriously “gullible” to the false words, body language and manipulations of “con men” of all types, how can this claim be extended outside a controlled “experiment” in THE LAB? Having worked in advertising for 15 years, I can assure the reader that finding models and actors who could act, speak and use body language that was “fake but natural” was a constant challenge. In other words, what was needed was a person who could “fake” natural behavior. Fooling the consumer was the GOAL!)

This evidence, along with many other observations, indicates that one source of emotion is sensory drive from muscles and internal organs. This input forms the sensory limb of reflex circuitry that allows rapid physiological changes in response to altered conditions. However, physiological responses can also be elicited by complex and idiosyncratic stimuli mediated by the forebrain. For example, an anticipated tryst with a lover, a suspenseful episode in a novel or film, stirring patriotic or religious music, or dishonest accusations can all lead to autonomicactivation and strongly felt emotions. (Are these “events, anticipated or actualized”, not social constructs that are learned? Would any child grow up to “behave patriotically” if he or she had not been taught do this by immersion in the total social environment, which “indoctrinates” children in the “proper emotions” of the culture?) The neural activity evoked by such complex stimuli is relayed from the forebrain to autonomic and somatic motor nuclei via the hypothalamus and brainstem reticular formation, the major structures that coordinate the expression of emotional behavior (see next section). (Is exploitation of this “neural activity” not the “pathway” to training social humans to “obey” the social rules?) 

In summary, emotion and motor behavior are inextricably linked. (Why would any one think that they are not? Emotion is merely the language used to manipulate, interpret and communicate the physiology) As William James put it more than a century ago:

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left if the feeling neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible for me to think … I say that for us emotion dissociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable.

William James, 1893 (Psychology: p. 379.)

NEXT: The representation of “emotions” as “thingies” that can be experienced and eaten! Are we to believe that 34,000 distinct “emotion objects” exist “in nature / in humans” or are these “inventions” of social language? 

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: What is it and How to Use it in Counseling?

Can you guess how many emotions a human can experience?

The answer might shock you – it’s around 34,000.

With so many, how can one navigate the turbulent waters of emotions, its different intensities, and compositions, without getting lost?

The answer – an emotion wheel.

Through years of studying emotions, Dr. Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation. (Pollack, 2016)

This means that, while it’s impossible to fully understand all 34,000 distinguishable emotions, (what is referred to is merely “vocabulary” that humans have come up with, and not emotion thingies that exist “somewhere” -) learning how to accurately identify how each of the primary emotions is expressed within you can be empowering. It’s especially useful for moments of intense feelings when the mind is unable to remain objective as it operates from its older compartments that deal with the fight or flight response. (Watkins, 2014) (This refers to the “pop-science” theory of the additive brain, (lizard, etc) which is utter fantasy) 

This article contains:

NEXT: Some Definitions of Emotions / Rather confusing, conflicting, unsatisfying, nonspecific descriptions: – indication that we’ve entered the supernatural realm of word concepts. Aye, yai, yai!

From introductory psychology texts

Sternberg, R. In Search of the Human Mind, 2nd Ed.Harcourt, Brace, 1998 p 542 “An emotion is a feeling comprising physiological and behavioral (and possibly cognitive) reactions to internal and external events.”

Nairne, J. S. Psychology: The Adaptive Mind. 2nd Ed. Wadsworth, 2000. p. 444 ” . . . an emotion is a complex psychological event that involves a mixture of reactions: (1) a physiological response (usually arousal), (2) an expressive reaction (distinctive facial expression, body posture, or vocalization), and (3) some kind of subjective experience (internal thoughts and feelings).”

From a book in which many researchers in the field of emotion discuss their views of some basic issues in the study of emotion. (Ekman, P., & Davidson, R. J. The Nature of Emotions: Fundamental Questions. Oxford, 1994)

Panksepp, Jaak p 86. .Compared to moods, “emotions reflect the intense arousal of brain systems that strongly encourage the organism to act impulsively.”

Clore, Jerald L p 184. “. . . emotion tems refer to internal mental states that are primarily focused on affect (where “affect” simply refers to the perceived goodness or badness of something). [see Clore & Ortony (1988) in V. Hamilton et al. Cognitive Science Perspectives on Emotion and Motivation. 367-398]

Clore, Jerald L p 285-6. “If there are necessary features of emotions, feeling is a good candidate. Of all the features that emotions have in common, feeling seems the least dispensable. It is perfectly reasonable to say about ones anger, for example,’I was angry, but I didn’t do anything,’ but it would be odd to say ‘I was angry, but I didn’t feel anything.’ ”

Ellsworth, Phoebe p 192. “. . . the process of emotion . . . is initiated when one’s attention is captured by some discrepancy or change. When this happens , one’s state is different, physiologically and psychologically, from what it was before. This might be called a “state of preparedness” for an emotion . . . The process almost always begins before the name [of the emotion is known] and almost always continues after it.

Averill, James R. p 265-6. “The concept of emotion . . . refer[s] to (1) emotional syndromes, (2) emotional states, and (3) emotional reactions. An emotional syndrome is what we mean when we speak of anger, grief, fear, love and so on in the abstract. . . . For example, the syndrome of anger both describes and prescribes what a person may (or should) do when angry. An emotional state is a relatively short term, reversible (episodic) disposition to respond in a manner representative of the corresponding emotional syndrome. . . . Finally, and emotional reaction is the actual (and highly variable) set of responses manifested by an individual when in an emotional state: . . . facial expressions, physiological changes, overt behavior and subjective experience.”

LeDoux, Joseph E. p 291. “In my view, “emotions” are affectively charged, sujectively experienced states of awareness.”


Individualism is an atheist lie / from a “Progressive Christian”


October 19, 2011 by Morgan Guyton

We meditated on this quotation from Jesus yesterday at our Virginia Methodist provisional clergy mentor covenant group retreat. On the side, I have been reading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, which has caused me to see the implications of Jesus’ statement in a completely new light. Zizioulas writes that God is the only authentic person in the universe because God is the source of His own being. As creatures, we are completely contingent upon God for our being.

If we really believe that God is the source of every instant of our consciousness, then Jesus’ statement is a lot more all-encompassing than we might have previously thought. He is not simply talking about the relationship that followers have to their leader or students have to their teacher. He is not just talking about any kind of lifestyle or community we choose to enter into. He is talking about the relationship He has as Creator to all of His creatures who are branches on His vine whether we accept this reality or not. Nothing in the universe exists independent from Christ, who is not solely the man Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago but also the very Word of God, the creative agency which articulates and implements the Father’s will as John 1:3 describes: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

On the vine of our creator Christ, those whose hearts are opened to communion and intimacy with their Creator “bear fruit.” Those who pretend to “be like gods” themselves (Gen 3:5) and cling to the delusion of their own self-sufficiency are “like a branch that is thrown away and withers… [before it is] picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6). Individualism describes the atheist delusion that we are the source of our own being, which is having the naivete of a branch that thinks it does not need God’s vine to be fed and survive. You can be an individualist and talk about God all day, but God is not truly God to you if you think you’re a self-made person. Unfortunately, individualism is the default perspective with which people in our age view life, including many who never stop blabbering about Jesus.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. Written by Rene Descartes in 1637, this is perhaps the most definitive declaration of independence from God in the course of Western history. (How about Nietzsche / “God is Dead” ?) It is the origin of secular thinking, because it sets as a foundational premise that our minds in effect “create” our existence, i.e. we are the source of our own identity (rather than God). Descartes’ premise is a choice to view the world with the assumption that the boundaries of reality are determined by our perception of it. I think; therefore I am” applied to the world outside my brain becomes “I see it; therefore it is,” which is the foundational premise of modern science.

Truth becomes that which has been observed and measured by multiple persons coming to the same conclusions instead of what our ancestors tell us that God told their ancestors to pass down to us. Rather than being a tribe in which our identity is given to us by our family, humanity is redefined by the Western secular tradition of Descartes and Enlightenment thinkers as a race of individuals who are the source of their own identity and subsequently form families and societies through social contracts with other individuals.

To view the world in this “I-centered” way which is ubiquitous to Western culture means living as if God doesn’t exist, at least not the God who Christians for centuries considered to be the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Rather than being understood as the source of our being, God becomes just another infinitely bigger and more powerful being who’s a constant threat to our freedom. God is the one who started the world, who intervenes occasionally in certain spectacular supernatural moments, and who will ultimately end the world, instead of being the One from whom creation is constantly emanating. God is seen as Someone outside of everything to whom we call to intervene rather than Someone inside of everything to whom we seek a purer connection. (That persistent NT insistence of inside / outside human isolation from Nature!) Paul’s declaration that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) sounds like pious poetry to us, but we don’t take this at all seriously as an ontological claim, because what we really believe in modernity is that “in science nature holds together” and, most problematically, “in our theological system God holds together.”

I understand that there are many positives to the legacy of Descartes and the Enlightenment. I just think it’s completely wrong to say Cogito ergo sum when we should be saying Cogitat Deus ergo sum (God thinks; therefore I am). Cogito ergo sum isn’t just Descartes’ delusion; it’s the delusion of all in our society who are taught to see themselves as self-made individuals. People don’t make themselves. Individualism is an atheist lie. Christ is our Creator. In Him all things hold together. All things are created through Him and for Him. He is the vine and we are the branches.


Okay, this may seem an odd piece to post, but it does contribute to the topic of recent posts on the concept of SELF. It demonstrates the ongoing conflict between so-called ‘secular thinking’ and ‘religious thinking’ and also the failure to recognize that philosophical points of view, and definitions of specific terms, pass into popular cultural as  strange and distorted “thingies”. We can also detect the influence of psychology and the social sciences, which, with traditional Biblical sources, create a fine mish-mash of assertions. Science, the method, is completely misunderstood.

The “point” of the piece seems to be the instructive metaphor, “He is the vine, and we are the branches”. This seems a sufficient illustration of belief. Why all the  unnecessary flailing around over misrepresentations of historical contributions to “Western Thought”? This, to me, weakens the “message.” “Stand by your man…”


INDIVIDUALISM / 1.The habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant. ‘a culture that celebrates individualism and wealth’ 1.1 Self-centered feeling or conduct; egoism. 2. A social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. ‘encouragement has been given to individualism, free enterprise, and the pursuit of profit’

Hmmmmm  …. If Individualism is an atheist lie, then The United States was founded by atheists, and no “true” Christian can participate in the U.S. Capitalist economy, and in fact, a “true” Christian believes in Communism / Socialism  and not in Democracy, as a form of governance.    

The fundamental “bottom line” of science. 

No “true” Christian should purchase or use any product of “computer science” (including the Internet) unless Jesus Christ can be proven to have invented it.  



Consciousness / A Damaged Word – plus other important terms

Language has a problem: words, even those meant to have specific definitions and uses, gather extra meanings once “let loose” in different environments, including academia, popular conversation, and ethnic, religious, and social groups. Words can become so degraded that they no longer have a specific (or even consistent) meaning and must be re-evaluated.

Conscious(ness) is one of those words.

Human beings are severe hoarders – any and every idea is saved, whether valid, nonsensical, or incomprehensible. Archaic ideas are held to be as true or accurate as modern knowledge. The result is that human thoughts, from the confused and valueless, to the sublime and revolutionary, are a tangle of debris, like that of a  Tsunami that collects everything in its path. And now that we have the Internet, no one is cleaning up the clogged beaches.

Any discussion of “being conscious” must first define what “being conscious” is, but few writers bother to do this. I think that an individual animal (human) is either conscious or not. Qualifiers such as “partially conscious” or “levels of consciousness” demonstrate that we don’t have a clear definition or understanding of being conscious.

If we want to make progress in the study of human behavior, we must strip away the overburden of “supernatural and archaic” deposits that murkify the idea of a “conscious state.” There needs to be a valid intellectual scaffold on which to arrange concrete evidence. I don’t care how in love with psycho-babble our culture is, consciousness must be rooted in physical reality.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that no have no purpose other than screwing up our lives.

Humans not only hoard objects, we hoard ideas that clutter and devalue our thinking.

A short list of terms that I use in evaluating information.

Natural: Having a real or physical existence as opposed to one that is supernatural, spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious.

Supernatural: A being, object, location, concept or event that exists outside physical law: a dimension that exists solely in the human mind. 

Religion: The ritual presentation of the culture myth that includes the —-“isms” Patriotism, Consumerism, Nazism, Militarism, Capitalism etc. (From Joseph Campbell)

Mind: The sum of an organism’s or group’s reactions to the environment. Instinct is the source of automatic reactions; other reactions may be learned. So-called “emotion” is a physiologic response to the environment and belongs to mind.

Culture: The sum of an organism’s or group’s interactions with the environment. These interactions may be instinctual, learned or invented.

Mind and culture are not exclusive to Humans. Bacteria react to, and interact with the environment.

The criteria that I use to define mind and culture removes the “supernatural” barrier between our species and what is referred to as “lower animals” or “the rest of life” or plants, and all that “alien” stuff such as fungus, which do react and interact with the environment in amazing ways and therefore possess mind and culture.

Consciousness is the use of verbal language to process and communicate information. (Not limited to other humans; we talk to anything alive or dead.)

This definition recognizes consciousness as a process; it is not a “thing” – not a bump on the brain nor a nebulous supernatural fog. This definition frees us to talk about the characteristics of human consciousness, without having to project our type of verbal consciousness onto other life forms. It also recognizes nonverbal communication and the ALTERNATE states produced by using other languages –  music / mathematics / visual-spatial and other languages of which we are unaware.  These other brain processes require new definitions and terms. Individuals whose primary communication is by means of mathematics / music surely experience brain states not available to concrete visual thinkers like me.

Conscious does not = self aware. Animals such as apes or dolphins are self aware as demonstrated by the mirror trick, but as to what subjective state occurs when they use their languages, we are not in a position to know. Their languages surely convey information, but their subjective experience is outside our knowing.

The Amygdala Is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center

Separating findings from conclusions


by Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., directs the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. He is author of Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety.


I’ve been studying the amygdala for more than 30 years. When I started this work, research on this brain region was a lonely field of inquiry. The hippocampus was all the rage, and I sometimes felt jealous of the attention lavished on this brain region because of its contribution to memory.  These days, though, it is the amygdala that is in the spotlight.  This little neural nugget has gone from an obscure area of the brain to practically a household word, one that has come to be synonymous with “fear.” And for many people, my name, too, is practically synonymous with “fear.”  I am often said to have identified the amygdala as the brain’s “fear” center.  But the fact is, I have not done this, nor has anyone else. The idea that the amygdala is the home of fear in the brain is just that—an idea. It is not a scientific finding but instead a conclusion based on an interpretation of a finding.  So what is the finding, what is the interpretation, and how did the interpretation come about?

The Finding:  When the amygdala is damaged, previously threatening stimuli come to be treated as benign.  The classic discovery was that monkeys with amygdala damage were “tamed;” snakes, for example, no longer elicited so-called fight-flight responses after amygdala damage.  Later studies in rats by me, and others, mapped out the amygdala’s role in a neural system that detects and responds to threats, and similar circuits were found to be operative when the human brain processes threats.

The Interpretation: Since damage to the amygdala eliminates behavioral responses to threats, feelings of “fear” are products of the amygdala. People are indeed less responsive to threats when the amygdala is damaged (in humans amygdala damage can occur as a result of epilepsy or other medical conditions or their surgical treatment). Yet, these people can still experience (feel) “fear.” In other words, the amygdala is an important part of the circuit that allows the brain to detect and respond to threats, but is not necessary to feel “fear.”

Brain imaging studies of healthy humans (people without brain damage) suggest something similar. When they are exposed to threats, neural activity in the amygdala increases and body responses (like sweating or increased heart rate) result. This is true even if the threatening stimuli are presented subliminally, such that the person is not consciously aware that the threat is present and does not consciously experience (feel) “fear.”  Amygdala activity does not mean that fear is experienced.

The conclusion that the amygdala is the brain’s fear center wrongly assumes that the feelings of “fear” and the responses elicited by threats are products of the same brain system. While amygdala circuits are directly responsible for behavioral/physiological responses elicited by threats, they are not directly responsible for feelings of “fear.”

How did the interpretation come to be?  We humans frequently feel afraid when we find ourselves freezing or fleeing when in harm’s way. In other words, these two things (the feeling and the body responses) tend to be tightly correlated in our conscious introspections. (The verbal “version” of what happened) These introspections are talked about and become shared experiences that are ingrained as natural truths. Most people thus believe that the feeling of fear is the reason an animal or person runs from danger; or that the classic facial expression we know as “fear” is driven by feeling afraid.  But when it comes to the brain, what is obvious is not always what is the case. The purpose of science is to go beyond the obvious to reveal the deeper truths that cannot be gleaned simply from observing nature.

Are fear and the myriad other “emotions” learned ? 

One of the first things a scientist learns is that a correlation does not necessarily reveal causation.  (Not really; this mistake is the bread and butter of psychology) The interpretation that the amygdala is the brain’s fear center confuses correlation and causation.

Actually, there are two confusions involved: (1) because we often feel afraid when we are responding to danger, (we assume that) fear is the reason we respond the way we do; and (2) because the amygdala is responsible for the response to danger, (we conclude that) it must also be responsible for the feeling of fear.

From the beginning, my research suggested that the amygdala contributes to non-conscious aspects of fear, by which I meant the detection of threats and the control of body responses that help cope with the threat. Conscious fear, I argued in my books The Emotional Brain (Simon and Schuster, 1996) and Synaptic Self (Viking, 2002), and most recently in Anxious (Viking, 2015), is a product of cognitive systems in the neocortex that operate in parallel with the amygdala circuit.  But that subtlety – (the distinction between conscious and non-conscious aspects of fear) – was lost on most people.

When one hears the word “fear,” the pull of the vernacular meaning is so strong that the mind is compelled to think of the feeling of being afraid.  For this reason, I eventually concluded that it is not helpful to talk about conscious and non-conscious aspects of fear.  A feeling like “fear” is a conscious experience. To use the word “fear” in any other way only leads to confusion.

The amygdala has a role in fear, but it is not the one that is popularly described. It’s role in fear is more fundamental and also more mundane.  It is responsible for detecting and responding to threats, and only contributes to feelings of fear indirectly.  For example, the amygdala outputs driven by threat detection alter information processing in diverse regions of the brain.  One important set of outputs result in the secretion of chemicals throughout the brain (norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin) and body (hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol).  In situations of danger, these chemicals alert the organism that something important is happening. As a result, attention systems in the neocortex guide the perceptual search of the environment for an explanation for the highly aroused state.  The meaning of the environmental stimuli present is added by the retrieval of memories. If the stimuli are known sources of danger, “fear” schema are retrieved from memory.  My hypothesis, then, is that the feeling of “fear” results when the outcome of these various processes (attention, perception, memory, arousal) coalesce in consciousness and compel one to feel “fear.” This can only happen in a brain that has the cognitive wherewithal (to) have the concept of “me,” or what Endel Tulving has called “autonoetic consciousness.”  In a later post, I will elaborate on the autonoetic nature of our conscious feelings. (I’m confused: Does this mean that (IF) no animal other than Homo sapiens experiences self-awareness, or some similar “ME- NESS” then Homo sapiens is the only animal that suffers the “feeling” of fear? Lucky “lower” animals…) 

There’s nothing wrong with speculation in science (I just speculated about how feelings come about). But when a speculative interpretation becomes ingrained in the culture of science, and the culture at large, as an unquestioned fact, we have a problem. 

This problem is especially acute in neuroscience, where we start from mental state words (like fear) that have historical meanings, and treat the words as if they are entities that live in brain areas (like the amygdala).

Yes, yes, yes. This is EXACTLY what drives me nuts. 

In sum, there is no fear center out of which effuses the feeling of being afraid. “Fear” is, in my view, better thought of as a cognitively assembled conscious experience that is related to threat processing, but that should not be confused with the non-conscious processes that detect and control responses to threats.

Postscript:  Be suspicious of any statement that says a brain area is a center responsible for some function.

The notion of functions being products of brain areas or centers is left over from the days when most evidence about brain function was based on the effects of brain lesions localized to specific areas.

Psychology is stuck in the Old Days; the entire basis for  Asperger’s individuals being labeled as pathological and developmentally defective is nonsense. 

Today, we think of functions as products of systems rather than of areas. Neurons in areas contribute because they are part of a system. The amygdala, for example, contributes to threat detection because it is part of a threat detection system.  And just because the amygdala contributes to threat detection does not mean that threat detection is the only function to which it contributes. Amygdala neurons, for example, are also components of systems that process the significance of stimuli related to eating, drinking, sex, and addictive drugs.

Attractive qualities of a person with Asperger’s syndrome / LOL

Romantic Relationships for Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism

Tony Attwood, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Consultant
Minds & Hearts Brisbane, Australia

For what it’s worth: This is the famous “autism expert” who failed to diagnose his own son, who is Asperger. 

Excerpt: Attractive qualities…

Men with Asperger’s syndrome have many qualities that can be attractive to a prospective partner. 6 When conducting relationship counselling with one or both partners having the characteristics or diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, I often ask the typical partner, ‘What were the qualities that made your partner attractive when you first met him/her?’ Many women describe their first impressions of their partner with Asperger’s syndrome as being someone who is kind, attentive, and socially or emotionally immature. The term “silent, handsome stranger” can be used to describe someone who seems relatively quiet and good looking. Physical characteristics and attentiveness can be important, especially if the woman has doubts regarding her own self-esteem and physical attractiveness. The man’s lack of social and conversational skills can lead to his being perceived as the “silent stranger” whose social naivety and immaturity can be transformed by a partner who is a natural expert on empathy, socializing, and conversation. (Beware the insecure woman who seeks to change you; the mothering may turn into smothering and then, rage.)

I have noted that many of the partners of men, and sometimes of women, with Asperger’s syndrome have been at the other end of the social and empathy continuum. They are intuitive experts in Theory of Mind, namely understanding and empathizing with someone else’s perspective. (Why do I doubt this? If he / she is so empathetic, why can’t this “magic person” understand the Asperger “interior experience”?) They are naturally gifted in the ability to understand the world as experienced by the person with Asperger’s syndrome, much more so than a person of average Theory of Mind abilities. (This is ridiculous…)

Wow! Disaster! From my experience, this “magical empath” may honestly “believe” that he or she understands the Asperger way of being, and can change them into a “suitable for social life” partner (or possession). This widespread NT delusion dooms so many interactions between AS and NT. When the “Magical Empath” inevitably discovers that he / she CANNOT CHANGE THE ASPERGER, rage and outlandish attacks will follow. 

They (magic empath) are understanding and sympathetic, (the last thing I want is sympathy) and they provide guidance for their partner in social situations. Indeed, these are the characteristics that an adult with Asperger’s syndrome recognizes that he or she needs and would find desirable in a partner. (My opinion? This is absolutely not what I find attractive. Who needs or wants a “zoo keeper”? How insulting! A spouse who serves as a “guide dog”!) He or she will actively seek a partner with intuitive social knowledge who can be a social interpreter, is naturally nurturing, is socially able, and is maternal. (OMG! We’re perpetual children who need “nannies” – ) However, while a socially insightful and empathic partner may understand the perspective of the person with Asperger’s syndrome, the person with Asperger’s syndrome has considerable difficulty understanding the perspective of his or her typical partner. (It’s our problem;  after all, we’re defective) 

This is BS. The deeper my understanding of the Asperger way of being has become, the clearer the “rift” between NT and AS perception of reality, and therefore experience, is revealed. The inability of the NT to comprehend the degree of “differentness” that actually exists between neotenic social humans and AS individuals, all but precludes understanding of “who we are”. In terms of sensory experience, sensory processing and perception and what we “do with” our brains, my assessment is that Asperger types are, in the practical sense, a different species.

As long as NTs regard us as “broken” versions of themselves, there can be little rapprochement.

The attractiveness of a person with Asperger’s syndrome in a prospective relationship can be enhanced by intellectual ability, career prospects, and degree of attentiveness during courtship. (The Labrador retriever appeal) Sometimes, however, this attentiveness could be perceived by others as almost obsessive, and the words and actions appear to have been learned from watching Hollywood romantic movies. The person can be admired for speaking his mind, even if the comments may be perceived as offensive by others, due to his strong sense of social justice and clear moral beliefs. The fact that he may not be “macho” or wish to spend time with other men at sporting events or drinking alcohol also can be appealing for some women. The person with Asperger’s syndrome can be a late developer in terms of relationship experiences, which also can be an attractive feature. There may be no previous relationship “baggage.” I also have had many women describe to me how their partner with Asperger’s syndrome resembled their father. (My father was Asperger, and although, or likely because, we were great friends, and I knew him well, I would NEVER choose a partner like him) Having a parent with the signs of Asperger’s syndrome may have contributed to their choice of partner as an adult.

Oh please, do tell us! LOL

What are the characteristics that men find attractive in a woman with Asperger’s syndrome? The attributes can be similar to the characteristics women find appealing in a man with Asperger’s syndrome, especially the degree of attentiveness. (Our “male brains” of course – we’re both inadequate copies of males, and perverse females.) The woman’s social immaturity may be appealing to those men who have natural paternal and compassionate qualities. (The zoo keeper, guide dog, nanny again) There can be an appreciation of her physical attractiveness and admiration for her talents and abilities. Unfortunately, women (and sometimes men) with Asperger’s syndrome are not very good at making character judgments or identifying relationship predators. Women with Asperger’s syndrome often have low self-esteem, which can affect their choice of partner in a relationship. They can be the victim of various forms of abuse. As one woman with Asperger’s explained to me, ‘I set my expectations very low and as a result gravitated toward abusive people.’

So, this is what is “attractive” about AS women: Male predators find us to be “easy targets” because we’re desperate idiots. Thanks a lot!

For more insulting nonsense: https://iancommunity.org/cs/articles/relationships

Contemplating Dream Experiences

Where did the world go?

Where did the world go?

After I woke up from a particularly confusing jumble of dream images one morning, it occurred to me that the brain during sleep may be reacting to being cut off from the environment, as if it’s locked in a dark closet. The brain depends on a stream of information arriving from the senses; it uses this information to make sense of the environment and to model “reality.” Maybe it ‘freaks out’ when the visual information stream shuts down.

During REM sleep the brain tries to combine peripheral sensations with memory (like sounds from the street, or temperature changes in the room) but without the necessary full connection to the “outer world” via the senses, a coherent story can’t be composed. That is, the brain’s function, which is to make sense of the environment, is  to write an ongoing story that integrates all the available information that the brain needs to direct and control the body.

Deprived during sleep of sense information, especially visual orientation, the brain simply can’t thread images, sounds and motion into a coherent story. Whatever we may “dream” it is mostly forgotten, and if we do remember, the brain then strives to make a reasonable story from fragments that we can recall.

A Plea for Visual Thinking / Rudolf Arnheim


A Plea for Visual Thinking

see also an interview with RA:  http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/rudolfarnheim.php

Rudolf Arnheim Reviewed work(s): Source: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Spring, 1980), pp. 489-497 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343105 . Accessed: 31/01/2013 13:04

Perception and thinking are treated by textbooks of psychology in separate chapters. The senses are said to gather information about the outer world; thinking is said to process that information. Thinking emerges from this approach as the “higher,” more respectable function, to which consequently education assigns most of the school hours and most of the credit. The exercise of the senses is a mere recreation, relegated to spare time.

It is left to the playful practice of the arts and music and is readily dispensed with when a tight budget calls for economy. The habit of separating the intuitive from the abstractive functions, as they were called in the Middle Ages, goes far back in our tradition. Descartes, in the sixth Meditation, defined man as “a thing that thinks,” to which reasoning came naturally (it obviously doesn’t!); whereas imagining, the activity of the senses, required a special effort and was in no way necessary to the human nature or essence. (The arts and technology are vital to human health and happiness -)

Note: We see the “elevation” of these narrow ideas about “a hierarchy of thinking” (that damn pyramid obsession again) in the denigration of ASD / Asperger abilities: (formal, old-fashioned use of language if language is present; echoing or copying (parroting) of language with an extensive “memorized” vocabulary, but without a “clue” to the “deeper meaning”  of language; an indictment of ASD / AS individuals as robots that are utterly lacking in imagination or creativity; as enthralled by boring subject matter (to social types) and above all, the failure to accomplish what has recently been elevated to the “highest level of cognition attainable, socio-emotional language, exemplified by: Have a nice day!

For “verbally deficient” autistics, this means an immediate judgement of low intelligence.  

So far, we have a very clear historical explanation as to why “visual-sensory thinking” got trashed, demoted and eventually designated as a “developmental disability” by American psychologists. This vital and creative cognitive process has vanished from the “acceptable human social repertoire” of “brain activity” in puritanical” American culture.  

The passive ability to receive images of sensory things, said Descartes, would be useless if there did not exist in the mind a further and higher active faculty capable of shaping these images and of correcting the errors that derive from sensory experience. (Exactly backwards to how thinking works) A century later Leibniz spoke of two levels of clear cognition.’ Reasoning was cognition of the higher degree: it was distinct, that is, it could analyze things into their components. Sensory experience, on the other hand, was cognition of the lower order: it also could be clear but it was confused, in the original Latin sense of the term; that is, all elements fused and mingled together in an indivisible whole. Thus artists, who rely on this inferior faculty (as do many top inventors and scientists), are good judges of works of art but when asked what is wrong with a particular piece that displeases them can only reply that it lacks nescio quid, a certain “I don’t know what.” (Intuitively, you “get it” or you don’t)

Yes, the Descartes – thing is nonsense. Just because a man is a genius is one field, doesn’t mean that he is an expert on everything; but NTs love authority and will believe without question what “great men” say. Our present predicament of relying on a “false pyramid of thinking” based on “dumb” (not reasonable) value judgements from (European white male) heroes of the past, has devastated the power of thinking “outside the box of verbal abstraction and generalities” in entire societies.

In our own time, language has been designated as the place of refuge from the problems incurred in direct perceptual experience; this in spite of the fact that language, although a powerful help to our thinking, does not offer in and by itself an arena in which thinking can take place. Thus the very title of a recent collection of articles by Jerome S. Bruner suggests that in order to arrive at knowledge the human mind must go “beyond the information given” by direct sensory experience. Bruner adopts the belief that the cognitive development of a child passes through three stages. The child explores the world first through action, then through imagery, and finally through language. 

The implication is, unfortunately, that with the arrival at a next level the earlier one falls by the wayside.

This is obviously untrue: adults retain modes of “thinking” from childhood stages. Magical thinking is the default mode of thinking for neotenic social typicals. Magic  “fills in” the gaps left by inferior sensory data and perception, supplying “fantastical” explanations for phenomena. Reasoning, critical analysis, and effective understanding of “how the universe works” (math-science) may be native to a few individuals, but must be taught and cultivated in the majority of children. This is a taboo in highly religious American culture. Reality-based thinking has been abandoned, even demonized, in American education – and for several generations – in favor of socially-promoted emotional narcissism that contributes to a very distorted social reality and description of “being human.” That is, a supernatural orientation is the result of developmental stagnation, and furnishes the status quo in religious, psychological and social engineering regimes. Neoteny is a fact of life for the modern social human. 

Thus when the child learns to go beyond a particular constellation directly given to his eyes, the ability to restructure the situation in a more suitable way is not credited by Bruner to the maturing of perceptual capacity but to the switch toward a new processing medium, namely, language. Thus language is praised as the indispensable instrument for essential refinements of the mind, toward which in fact, language is little more than a reflector.

To claim that “cognition” suddenly appeared out of nowhere, only with the “arrival of human verbal language” is idiotic and unbelievably arrogant! 550 million years of “arms race” evolution, but “sensory thinking” is inferior…

We are told by psychologists that “autistic” children are defective (low intelligence) due to two outrageous prejudices:

1. Lack of verbal language use, and/or failure to use language as prescribed (social scripts) is automatically a “sign” of defective development. (This overturns and discards 550 millions of years of evolution)

2. Superior sensory perception and processing, which are autistic strengths, are denigrated as ‘low-level’ cognition.

Since experts insist that perception offers nothing better than the fairly mechanical recording of the stimuli arriving at the sensory receptors, it is useful to respond with a few examples which show that perception transcends constantly and routinely the mere mechanical recording of sensory raw material. (I am limiting myself in the following to visual perception.) At a fairly simple level, the psychologist Roger N. Shepard and his coworkers have shown that visual imagination can rotate the spatial position of a given object when a different view is needed to solve a problem, for example, in order to identify the object with, or distinguish it from, a similar one. (I have noted previously that this type of “test” is a very limited and rule-based conception of what visual thinking can and does accomplish) This is worth knowing. But reports by artists and scientists indicate that visual imagination is capable of much more spectacular exploits. Indeed, the imagination of the average person demands our respect.

Let me use an example cited in an article by Lewis E. Walkup. The solution of the puzzle should be attempted without the help of an illustration. Imagine a large cube made up of twenty-seven smaller cubes, that is, three layers of nine cubes each. Imagine further that the entire outer surface of the large cube is painted red and ask yourself how many of the smaller cubes will be red on three sides, two sides, one side, or no side at all.

SEE Skipped TEXT

Far from abandoning our image, we discovered it to be a beautiful, composition, in which each element was defined by its place in the whole. Did we need language to perform this operation? Not at all; although language could help us to codify our results. Did we need intelligence, inventiveness, creative discovery? Yes, some. In a modest way, the operation we performed is of the stuff that good science and good art are made of.

Was it seeing or was it thinking that solved the problem? Obviously, the distinction is absurd.

In order to see we had to think; and we had nothing to think about if we were not looking. But our claim goes farther. We assert not only that perceptual problems can be solved by perceptual operations but that productive thinking solves any kind of problem in the perceptual realm because there exists no other arena in which true thinking can take place. Therefore it is now necessary to show, at least sketchily, how one goes about solving a highly “abstract” problem. For the sake of an example, let me ask the old question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Instead of looking up the answer in Saint Augustine or Spinoza, I watch what happens when I begin to think. In what medium does the thinking take place? Images start to form. Motivational forces, in order to become manipulable, take the shape of arrows. These arrows line up in a sequence, each pushing the next-a deterministic chain that does not seem to leave room for any freedom (fig. la). Next I ask What is freedom? and I see a sheaf of vectors issuing from a base (fig. lb). Each arrow is free, within the limits of the constellation, to move in any direction it pleases and to reach as far as it can and will. But there is something incomplete about this image of freedom. It operates in empty space, and there is no sense to freedom without the context of the world to which it applies. My next image adds an external system of a world minding its own business and thereby frustrating the arrows that issue from my freedom-seeking creature (fig. ic). I must ask: Are the two systems incompatible in principle? In my … GO TO: 



Exciting Paper / Enhanced Perception (Autism)

Royal Society Publishing
Note: I think this “pattern-structure perception” applies also to Asperger individuals who are visual sensory thinkers, but proficient in verbal language. That is, it’s not an “either or” situation in actual brains. (This “either or” insistence is NT projection of their black and white, oppositional, competitive obsession). Specific brains can and do process and sensory info and utilize verbal language; these are not “matter-antimatter” interactions as NTs imagine.  

Enhanced perception in savant syndrome: patterns, structure and creativity

Laurent Mottron, Michelle Dawson, Isabelle Soulières / .

Full paper: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1385.long

5. Savant creativity: a different relationship to structure

Savant performance cannot be reduced to uniquely efficient rote memory skills (see Miller 1999, for a review), and encompasses not only the ability for strict recall, requiring pattern completion, but also the ability to produce creative, new material within the constraints of a previously integrated structure, i.e. the process of pattern generation. This creative, flexible, albeit structure-guided, aspect of savant productions has been clearly described (e.g. Pring 2008). It is analogous to what Miller (1999, p. 33) reported on error analyses in musical memory: ‘savants were more likely to impose structure in their renditions of musical fragments when it was absent in the original, producing renditions that, if anything, were less ‘literal’ than those of the comparison participants’. Pattern generation is also intrinsic to the account provided by Waterhouse (1988).

The question of how to produce creative results using perceptual mechanisms, including those considered low-level in non-autistics, is at the very centre of the debate on the relationship between the nature of the human factor referred to as intelligence and the specific cognitive and physiological mechanisms of savant syndrome (maths or memory, O’Connor & Hermelin 1984; rules or regularities, Hermelin & O’Connor 1986; implicit or explicit, O’Connor 1989; rhyme or reason, Nettlebeck 1999). It also echoes the questions raised by recent evidence of major discrepancies in the measurement of autistic intelligence according to the instruments used (Dawson et al. 2007).

A combination of multiple pattern completions at various scales could explain how a perceptual mechanism, apparently unable to produce novelty and abstraction in non-autistics, contributes in a unique way to autistic creativity. The atypically independent cognitive processes characteristic of autism allow for the parallel, non-strategic integration of patterns across multiple levels and scales, without information being lost owing to the automatic hierarchies governing information processing and limiting the role of perception in non-autistics. (Remember; in visual perception and memory the image is the content; therefore it is dense with detail and connections – “patterns”. NTs “fill-in” the gaps in their perception with “magical / supernatural” explanations for phenomena)

An interest in internal structure may also explain a specific, and new, interest for domains never before encountered. For example, a savant artist newly presented with the structure of visual tones learned this technique more rapidly and proficiently than typical students (Pring et al. 1997). In addition, the initial choice of domain of so-called restricted interest demonstrates the versatility of the autistic brain, in the sense that it represents spontaneous orientation towards, and mastering of, a new domain without external prompts or instruction. How many such domains are chosen would then depend on the free availability of the kinds, amounts and arrangements of information which define the structure of the domain, according to aspects of information that autistics process well. Generalization also occurs under these circumstances, for example, to materials that share with the initial material similar formal properties, i.e. those that allow ‘veridical mapping’ with the existing ability. In Pring & Hermelin (2002), a savant calendar calculator with absolute pitch displayed initial facility with basic number–letter associations, and was able to quickly learn new associations and provide novel manipulations of these letter–number correspondences.

The apparently ‘restricted’ aspects of restricted interests are at least partly related to pattern detection, in that there are positive emotions in the presence of material presenting a high level of internal structure, and a seeking out of material related in form and structure to what has already been encountered and memorized. Limitation of generalization may also be explained by the constraints inherent in the role of similarity in pattern detection, which would prevent an extension of isomorphisms to classes of elements that are excessively dissimilar to those composing the initial form. In any case, there is no reason why autistic perceptual experts would be any less firm, diligent or enthusiastic in their specific preferences for materials and domains than their non-autistic expert counterparts. However, it must also be acknowledged that the information autistics require in order to choose and generalize any given interest is likely to be atypical in many respects (in that this may not be the information that non-autistics would require), and may not be freely or at all available. In addition, the atypical ways in which autistics and savants learn well have attracted little interest and are as yet poorly studied and understood, such that we remain ignorant as to the best ways in which to teach these individuals (Dawson et al. 2008). Therefore, a failure to provide autistics or savants with the kinds of information and opportunities from which they can learn well must also be considered as explaining apparent limitations in the interests and abilities of savant and non-savant autistics (see also Heaton 2009).

6. Structure, emotion and expertise

While reliable information about the earliest development or manifestations of savant abilities in an individual is very sparse, biographies of some savants suggest a sequence starting with uninstructed, sometimes apparently passive, but intent and attentive (e.g. Horwitz et al. 1965; Selfe 1977; Sacks 1995) orientation to and study of their materials of interest. In keeping with our proposal about how savants perceive and integrate patterns, materials that spontaneously attract interest may be at any scale or level within a structure, including those that appear unsuitable for the individual’s apparent developmental level. For example, Paul, a 4-year-old autistic boy (with a presumed mental age of 17 months), who was found to have outstanding literacy, exceeding that of typical 9-year olds, intently studied newspapers starting before his second birthday (Atkin & Lorch 2006). It should not be surprising that in savants, the consistent or reliable availability of structured or formatted information and materials can influence the extent of the resulting ability. For example, the types of words easily memorized by NM, proper names, in addition to being redundant in Quebec, share a highly similar structural presentation in the context where NM learned them, including phone books, obituaries and grave markers (Mottron et al. 1996, 1998). However, a fuller account of why there is the initial attraction to and preference for materials with a high degree of intrinsic organization, and for specific kinds of such structured materials in any particular individual, is necessary.

Positive emotions are reported in connection with the performance of savant abilities (e.g. Selfe 1977; Sloboda et al. 1985; Miller 1989). Therefore, it is possible that a chance encounter with structured material gives birth to an autistic special interest, which then serves as the emotional anchor of the codes involved in savant abilities, associated with both positive emotions and a growing behavioural orientation towards similar patterns (Mercier et al. 2000). Brain structures involved in the processing of emotional content can be activated during attention to objects of special interest in autistics (Grelotti et al. 2005). So-called repetitive play in autism, associated with positive emotions, consists of grouping objects or information encompassing, as in the codes described above, series of similar or equivalent attributes. In addition, in our clinical experience, we observe that repetitive autistic movements are often associated with positive emotions.

One possibility worth further investigation would be that patterns in structured materials, in themselves, may trigger positive emotions in autism and that arbitrary alterations to these patterns may produce negative emotions (Yes! Stop f—ing with our interests!)—a cognitive account of the insistence on sameness with which autistics have been characterized from the outset (Kanner 1943). Individuals who excel in detecting, integrating and completing patterns at multiple levels and scales, as we propose is the case with savants, would have a commensurate sensitivity to anomalies within the full array of perceived similarities and regularities (e.g. O’Connell 1974). In Hermelin & O’Connor (1990), an autistic savant (with apparently very limited language skills) known for his numerical abilities, including factorization, but who had never been asked to identify prime numbers, instantly expressed—without words—his perfect understanding of this concept when first presented with a prime number. The superior ability of autistics to detect anomalies—departures from pattern or similarity—has accordingly been reported (e.g. Plaisted et al. 1998; Baron-Cohen 2005).

Overexposure to material highly loaded with internal structure plausibly favours implicit learning and storage of information units based on their perceptual similarity, and more generally, of expertise effects. Savants benefit from expertise effects to the same extent as non-autistic experts (Miller 1999). Among expertise effects is the recognition of units at a more specific level compared with non-experts and the suppression of negative interference effects among members of the same category. Reduced interference has been demonstrated between lists of proper names in a savant memorizer (Mottron et al. 1998). Another expertise effect is the ‘frequency effect’, the relative ease with which memorization and manipulation of units, to which an individual has been massively exposed, can be accomplished (Segui et al. 1982). For example, Heavey et al. (1999) found that calendar calculators recalled more calendar-related items than controls matched for age, verbal IQ and diagnosis, but exhibited unremarkable short- or long-term recall of more general material unrelated to calendars. These two aspects of expertise would favour the emergence and the stabilization of macrounits (e.g. written code in a specific language, or set of pitches arranged by harmonic rules), which are perceptually the spatio-temporal conjunctions of recognizable patterns related by isomorphisms. Conversely, pattern detection may be unremarkable or even diminished in the case of arbitrarily presented unfamiliar material (Frith 1970).

Identifying savant syndrome as aptitude, material availability and expertise, combined with an autistic brain characterized by EPF, is also informative on the relationship between savant syndrome and peaks of ability in non-savant autistics. Perceptual peaks are largely measured using materials with which the participant has not been trained, whereas savant syndrome encompasses the effects of a life spent pursuing the processing of specific information and materials. We therefore forward the possibility that the range and extent of autistic abilities may be revealed only following access to specific kinds, quantities and arrangements of information. However, we do not expect savant abilities to differ from non-savant autistic peaks of ability in their basic mechanisms. According to this understanding of differences between savant and non-savant autistics, the fact that not all autistics are savants is no more surprising than the fact that not all non-autistics are experts.

NTs fill-in the gaps in their perception of the environment with magical beliefs; magical thinking is a developmental stage in young children.  

What psychologists say: Stage by Stage, age 3 – 4

  • Threes and fours often use magical thinking to explain causes of events.
  • Preschoolers sometimes assign their own thinking as a reason for occurrences that are actually out of their control.
  • Three- and 4-year-olds believe, with their powers of magical thinking, that they can change reality into anything they wish.

ASD / AS Intelligence Revisited / Guess what? We’re intelligent. DUH!

PLoS One. 2011; 6(9): e25372.
Published online 2011 Sep 28. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0025372
PMID: 21991394

The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome?


Isabelle Soulières, 1 , 2 , * Michelle Dawson, 1 Morton Ann Gernsbacher, 3 and Laurent Mottron  / Efthimios M. C. Skoulakis, Editor


Individuals on the autistic spectrum are currently identified according to overt atypicalities in socio-communicative interactions, focused interests and repetitive behaviors [1]. More fundamentally, individuals on the autistic spectrum are characterized by atypical information processing across domains (social, non-social, language) and modalities (auditory, visual), raising the question of how best to assess and understand these individuals’ intellectual abilities. Early descriptions [2], [3] and quantifications (e.g. [4]) of their intelligence emphasized the distinctive unevenness of their abilities. While their unusual profile of performance on popular intelligence test batteries remains a durable empirical finding [5], it is eclipsed by a wide range of speculative deficit-based interpretations. (based on socio-cultural arrogance) Findings of strong performance on specific tests have been regarded as aberrant islets of ability arising from an array of speculated deficits (e.g., “weak central coherence”; [6]) and as incompatible with genuine human intelligence.

For example, Hobson ([7], p. 211) concluded that regardless of strong measured abilities in some areas, autistics lack “both the grounding and the mental flexibility for intelligent thought.

Thus, there is a long-standing assumption that a vast majority of autistic individuals are intellectually impaired. In recent years, this assumption has been challenged by investigations that exploit two divergent approaches —represented by Wechsler scales of intelligence and Raven’s Progressive Matrices— to measuring human intelligence [8]. Wechsler scales estimate IQ through batteries of ten or more different subtests, each of which involves different specific oral instructions and tests different specific skills. The subtests are chosen to produce scores that, for the typical population, are correlated and combine to reflect a general underlying ability. Advantages of this approach include the availability of subtest profiles of specific skill strengths and weaknesses, index scores combining related subtests, and dichotomized Performance versus Verbal IQ scores (PIQ vs. VIQ), as well as a Full-Scale IQ (FSIQ) score. However, the range of specific skills assayed by Wechsler scales is limited (e.g., reading abilities are not included), and atypical individuals who lack specific skills (e.g., typical speech processing or speech production) or experiences (e.g., typical range of interests) may produce scores that do not reflect those individuals’ general intelligence.

In contrast, Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) is a single self-paced test that minimizes spoken instruction and obviates speech production or typicality of experiences [9]. The format is a matrix of geometric designs in which the final missing piece must be selected from among an array of displayed choices. Sixty items are divided into five sets that increase progressively in difficulty and complexity, from simple figural to complex analytic items. RPM is regarded both as the most complex and general single test of intelligence [10], [11] and as the best marker for fluid intelligence, which in turn encompasses reasoning and novel problem-solving abilities [8], [12]. RPM tests flexible co-ordination of attentional control, working memory, rule inference and integration, high-level abstraction, and goal-hierarchy management [13], . These abilities, as well as fluid intelligence itself, have been proposed as areas of deficit in autistic persons, particularly when demands increase in complexity [16], [17], [18], [19].

Against these assumptions, we reported that autistic children and adults, with Wechsler FSIQ ranging from 40 to 125, score an average 30 percentile points higher on RPM than on Wechsler scales, while typical individuals do not display this discrepancy, as shown in Figure 1 [20]. RPM item difficulty, as reflected in per-item error rate, was highly correlated between the autistic and non-autistic children (r = .96). An RPM advantage for autistic individuals has been reported in diverse samples. Bolte et al. [21] tested autistic, other atypical (non-autism diagnoses), and typical participants who varied widely in their age and the version of Wechsler and RPM they were administered; autistics with Wechsler FSIQ under 85 were unique in having a relative advantage on RPM. Charman et al. [22] reported significantly higher RPM than Wechsler scores (FSIQ and PIQ) for a large population-based sample of school-aged autistic spectrum children. In Morsanyi and Holyoak [23], autistic children, who were matched with non-autistic controls on two Wechsler subtests (Block Design and Vocabulary), displayed a numeric, though not significant, advantage within the first set of Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices items.

The nature of autistic intelligence was also investigated in an fMRI study [24]. Autistics and non-autistics matched on Wechsler FSIQ were equally accurate in solving the 60 RPM items presented in random order, but autistics performed dramatically faster than their controls. This advantage, which was not found in a simple perceptual control task, ranged from 23% for easier RPM items to 42% for complex analytic RPM items.

Autistics’ RPM task performance was associated with greater recruitment of extrastriate areas and lesser recruitment of lateral prefrontal and medial posterior parietal cortex, illustrating their hallmark enhanced perception [25].

One replicated manifestation of autistics’ enhanced perception is superior performance on the Wechsler Block Design subtest, suggesting a visuospatial peak of ability [26]. Even when autistics’ scores on all other Wechsler subtests fall below their RPM scores, their Block Design and RPM scores lie at an equivalent level [20].

Thus, enhanced occipital activity, superior behavioral performance on RPM, and visuospatial peaks co-occur in individuals whose specific diagnosis is autism, suggesting an increased and more autonomous role of perception in autistic reasoning and intelligence [24].

But what about individuals whose specific diagnosis is Asperger syndrome? In Dawson et al.’s previous investigations of autistics’ RPM performance, Asperger individuals were excluded. Asperger syndrome is a relatively low-prevalence [27] autistic spectrum diagnosis characterized by intelligence scores within the normal range (non-Asperger autistics may have IQs in any range). Two main distinctions between the specific diagnosis of autism and Asperger syndrome are relevant to the question of intelligence in the autistic spectrum. First, while their verbal and nonverbal communication is not necessarily typical across development, Asperger individuals do not, by diagnostic definition, exhibit characteristic autistic delays and anomalies in spoken language. While both autistic and Asperger individuals produce an uneven profile on Wechsler subtests, Asperger individuals’ main strengths, in contrast with those of autistics (see [20]), are usually seen in verbal subtests (count me in)  (as illustrated in Figure 2; see also [28]). Although RPM is often deemed a “nonverbal” test of intelligence, in practice typical individuals often rely on verbal abilities to perform most RPM items. (NOTE: I have commented on this in another post, regarding the pre-test tutoring available to students, during which the “rules of the game” are explained. Is this “cheating” in that “fluid intelligence” and not learned procedures, are supposedly being measured?)  

Second, at a group level, Asperger individuals do not display the autistic visuospatial peak in Wechsler scales; rather, their Block Design subtest performance tends to be unremarkably equivalent to their FSIQ (see Figure 2 and also [32]). The question of whether Asperger individuals display the autistic advantage on RPM over Wechsler is thus accompanied by the possibility that the Asperger subgroup represents an avenue for further investigating the nature of this discrepancy. (I am quite baffled at times by my “native” Asperger experience, which is overwhelmingly visual-sensory, but that verbal language is a “go to tool” for translating that experience into “acceptable” form. Very practical! Why does this “arrangement” seem to occur in Asperger’s?)

Our goal was to investigate whether the autistic advantage on RPM is also characteristic of Asperger syndrome and, further, whether RPM performance reveals a fundamental property of intelligence across the autistic spectrum. If the mechanism underlying autistics’ advantage on RPM is limited to visuospatial peaks or to language difficulties disproportionately hampering Wechsler performance, then the advantage should not be found in Asperger individuals. Indeed, as predicted by Bolte et al. [21], Asperger individuals should perform even better on Wechsler scales than on RPM. If instead the underlying mechanism is more general and versatile, then Asperger individuals should demonstrate at least some advantage on RPM. Preliminary findings have suggested this to be the case. In one recent study, Asperger children (age 6–12) obtained significantly higher raw scores on RPM than did typical children matched on age and Wechsler performance [33].

For all the “poo-bah” and graphs, go to original paper (and related papers):  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182210/


Asperger individuals differ from autistics in their early speech development, in having Wechsler scores in the normal range, and in being less likely to be characterized by visuospatial peaks. In this study, Asperger individuals presented with some significant advantages, and no disadvantages, on RPM compared to Wechsler FSIQ, PIQ, and VIQ. Asperger adults demonstrated a significant advantage, relative to their controls, in their RPM scores over their Wechsler FSIQ and PIQ scores, while for Asperger children this advantage was found for their PIQ scores. For both Asperger adults and children and strikingly similar to autistics in a previous study [20], their best Wechsler performances were similar in level to, and therefore plausibly representative of, their general intelligence as measured by RPM.

We have proposed that autistics’ cognitive processes function in an atypically independent way, leading to “parallel, non-strategic integration of patterns across multiple levels and scales” [36] and to versatility in cognitive processing [26].

Such “independent thinking” suggests ways in which apparently specific or isolated abilities can co-exist with atypical but flexible, creative, and complex achievements. Across a wide range of tasks, including or perhaps

especially in complex tasks, autistics do not experience to the same extent the typical loss or distortion of information that characterizes non-autistics’ mandatory hierarchies of processing

Therefore, autistics can maintain more veridical representations (e.g. representations closer to the actual information present in the environment) when performing high level, complex tasks. The current results suggest that such a mechanism is also present in Asperger syndrome and therefore represents a commonality across the autistic spectrum. Given the opportunity, different subgroups of autistics may advantageously apply more independent thinking to different available aspects of information: verbal information, by persons whose specific diagnosis is Asperger’s, and perceptual information, by persons whose specific diagnosis is autism.

One could alternatively suggest that the construct measured by RPM is relative and thus would reflect processes other than intelligence in autistic spectrum individuals. However, a very high item difficulty correlation is observed between autistic individuals and typical controls, as well as between Asperger individuals and typical controls. As previously noted [20], these high correlations indicate that RPM is measuring the same construct in autistics and non-autistics, a finding now extended to Asperger syndrome.

Therefore, dismissing these RPM findings as not reflecting genuine human intelligence in autistic and Asperger individuals would have the same effect for non-autistic individuals.

The discrepancies here revealed between alternative measures of intelligence in a subgroup of individuals underline the ambiguous non-monolithic definition of intelligence. Undoubtedly, autistics’ intelligence is atypical and may not be as easily assessed and revealed with standard instruments. But given the essential and unique role that RPM has long held in defining general and fluid intelligence (e.g., [37]),

we again suggest that both the level and nature of autistic intelligence have been underestimated.

Thus, while there has been a long tradition of pursuing speculated autistic deficits, it is important to consider the possibility of strength-based mechanisms as underlying autistics’ atypical but genuine intelligence.