Rhythmic attentional sampling in autism

Xiaoxu Fan, Tamar Kolodny, Kristin M. Woodard, Aydin Tasevac, Wesley R. Ganz, Hannah M. Rea, Evangeline C. Kurtz-Nelson, Sara Jane Webb, Scott O. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals diagnosed with autism often display alterations in visual spatial attention toward visual stimuli, but the underlying cause of these differences remains unclear. Recent evidence has demonstrated that covert spatial attention, rather than remaining constant at a cued location, samples stimuli rhythmically at a frequency of 4–8 Hz (theta). Here we tested whether rhythmic sampling of attention is altered in autism. Participants were asked to monitor three locations to detect a brief target presented 300–1200 ms after a spatial cue. Visual attention was oriented to the cue and modified visual processing at the cued location, consistent with previous studies. We measured detection performance at different cue-target intervals when the target occurred at the cued location. Significant oscillations in detection performance were identified using both a traditional time-shuffled approach and a new autoregressive surrogate method developed by Brookshire in 2022. We found that attention enhances behavioral performance rhythmically at the same frequency in both autism and control group at the cued location. However, rhythmic temporal structure was not observed in a subgroup of autistic individuals with co-occurring attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Our results imply that intrinsic brain rhythms which organize neural activity into alternating attentional states is functional in autistic individuals, but may be altered in autistic participants who have a concurrent ADHD diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2090-2099
Number of pages10
JournalAutism Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • attention
  • autism
  • rhythmic attention
  • shifting attention
  • spatial attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • General Neuroscience


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