Fractal rock: Autistic children excel at absorbing information from objects, such as fractals.

Image by Quan Wang

Children with autism have trouble learning that faces convey information, but they excel at learning that some objects do, according to a new study. The finding may explain why people with autism tend to miss social cues. People with autism often prefer to look at objects rather than social stimuli, such as faces. The new work is the first to suggest a reason why: Children with the condition may have problems figuring out which social stimuli in their environment are worth paying attention to and which they can ignore. The world bombards the brain with more visual information than it can process. Most people learn through experience to pay attention to certain things over others, a process called ‘value learning.’ For instance, typically developing babies learn that their parents’ faces tend to provide more valuable information than a stranger’s face, which, in turn, tends to provide more valuable information than an object does. Value learning is essential for social interactions.

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