Many individuals with autism are highly sensitive to sights, sounds and other sensory stimulation. One theory posits that this sensitivity may arise from a lack of inhibitory brain activity. To test this idea, researchers gave people with autism a binocular rivalry task, in which the researchers present different images — say, a piece of broccoli and a globe — separately to the right and the left eye of the individual. Although the two images appear simultaneously, people see them one at a time, alternating between the eyes. People who have autism switch between the right- and left-eye images more slowly than other people do, and they are more likely to report seeing a merged version of the two pictures1. Reduced inhibitory function in the brain could even explain some cognitive problems in autism, Robertson says. In particular, it could underlie deficits among people with autism in theory of mind, in which individuals have to suppress their own thoughts to understand what someone else may be thinking.
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