Public Release: 

Study finds autistics better at problem-solving

University of Montreal and Harvard University research in Human Brain Mapping

University of Montreal

This release is available in French.

Montreal, June 16, 2009 -- Autistics are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving than non-autistics, according to a new Université de Montréal and Harvard University study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. As part of the investigation, participants were asked to complete patterns in the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) - test that measures hypothesis-testing, problem-solving and learning skills.

"While both groups performed RSPM test with equal accuracy, the autistic group responded more quickly and appeared to use perceptual regions of the brain to accelerate problem-solving," says lead author Isabelle Soulières, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University who completed the experiment at the Université de Montréal. "Some critics agued that autistics would be unable to complete the RSPM because of its complexity, yet our study shows autistics complete it as efficiently and have a more highly developed perception than non-autistics."

Fifteen autistics and 18 non-autistics were recruited for the study. Participants were 14 to 36 years old and matched according to their preliminary results on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. All subjects underwent magnetic resonance imaging to explore their neural activity during RSPM problem-solving. While autism is a common neurodevelopmental disability characterized by profound differences in information processing and analysis, this study showed that autistics have efficient reasoning abilities that build on their perceptual strengths.

"This study builds on our previous findings and should help educators capitalize on the intellectual abilities of autistics," says senior researcher Laurent Mottron, the new Marcel & Rolande Gosselin Research Chair in Autism Cognitive Neuroscience of the Université de Montréal and psychiatry professor. "The limits of autistics should constantly be pushed and their educational materials should never be simplified."

Adds Dr. Soulières: "The Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices are among the most complex tests to provide insight on how a person understands and formulates rules, manages goal hierarchies and performs high-level abstractions. Our wager was that autistics could complete such a test and they surpassed our expectations."


About the study:
The study, "Enhanced Visual Processing Contributes to Matrix Reasoning in Autism, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, was authored by Isabelle Soulières, Gary E. Strangman, Cherif Sahyoun and Thomas A. Zeffiro of the Harvard University and Laurent Mottron, Michelle Dawson, Fabienne Samson and Elise B. Barbeau of the Université de Montréal.

Partners in research:
This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Autism Speaks.

On the Web:
About the cited article:
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About the Harvard Medical School:
About Isabelle Soulières:
About Laurent Mottron:

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