Fractionation of visual memory: Agency detection and its impairment in autism

R. J.R. Blair, U. Frith, N. Smith, F. Abell, L. Cipolotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


It is known that the adult visual memory system is fractionable into functionally independent cognitive subsystems, selectively susceptible to brain damage. In addition, there have been hints from studies with individuals with autism that these cognitive subsystems can fractionate developmentally. However, there has been a paucity of systematic investigations. The present study involves the analysis of visual memory of a population of individuals with autism and age- and VIQ-matched comparison individuals. The individuals with autism presented selective impairments in face recognition in comparison to both the age- and VIQ-matched comparison populations. In addition, they were impaired relative to the age-matched comparison group on recognition memory for potential agents (i.e. objects capable of self-propelled motion) whether they were living (cats and horses) or non-living (motorbikes). In contrast, they were selectively superior relative to the VIQ-matched comparison group on recognition memory for such objects as topographical stimuli (buildings) and leaves that clearly do not have agency. The data is interpreted in terms of reduced sensitivity to agency cues in individuals with autism and general information processing capacity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-118
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency detection
  • Autism
  • Fractionation
  • Visual memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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