Psychological Medicine



Linguistic processing in high-functioning adults with autism or Asperger's syndrome. Is global coherence impaired?


THERESE JOLLIFFE a1c1 and SIMON BARON-COHEN a1
a1 Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge

Abstract

Background. Linguistic processing was explored in normally intelligent adults with either autism or Asperger's syndrome, to test if global coherence was impaired. Global coherence is the ability to establish causal connections and interrelate local chunks into higher-order chunks so that most linguistic elements are linked together thematically. Since individuals with autism are hypothesized to have weak central coherence then one would predict that the clinical groups would have difficulty integrating information globally so as to derive full meaning.

Methods. Two experiments were designed to test global coherence. Experiment 1 investigated whether individuals on the autism spectrum condition could arrange sentences coherently. Experiment 2 investigated whether they were less able to use context to make a global inference.

Results. The clinical groups were less able to arrange sentences coherently and use context to make a global inference.

Conclusions. The results suggest that individuals on the autism spectrum have impaired global coherence. Arranging sentences and making global inferences correlated highly, suggesting that central coherence may be a unitary force in these different tasks. Of the two clinical groups, the autism group had the greater deficit. The effect that such a deficit would have on one's daily life is discussed, along with possible explanations for the clinical groups' greater difficulty, and suggestions for future research.


Correspondence:
c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Therese Jolliffe, Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EB.


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