Grandin, a professor of animal science whose best-selling books have provided an unprecedented look at the autistic mind, says her autism gives her special insight into the inner workings of the animal mind. She based her proposal on the observation that animals, like autistic humans, sense and respond to stimuli that nonautistic humans usually overlook.
In a new essay published in the open access journal PLoS Biology, Giorgio Vallortigara and his colleagues, argue that, while Grandin’s book “shows extraordinary insight into both autism and animal welfare,” the question of equivalent cognitive abilities between savants and animals “deserves scrutiny from scientists working in animal cognition and comparative neuroscience.”
Vallortigara et al. argue that savant abilities—for example, exceptional skills in music, math, or art—come at a cost in other aspects of processing and, therefore, appear to be unrelated to the extraordinary species-specific adaptations seen in some taxa. Furthermore, the authors argue, rather than having privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts, as has been argued for savants, animals, like non-autistic humans, process sensory inputs according to rules, and that this manner of processing is a specialized feature of the left hemisphere in humans and nonhuman animals. At the most general level, they argue, “the left hemisphere sets up rules based on experience and the right hemisphere avoids rules in order to detect details and unique features that allow it to decide what is familiar and what is novel. This is true for human and nonhuman animals, likely reflecting ancient evolutionary origins of the underlying brain mechanisms.”
Grandin, who responds to the authors’ critique in a special commentary, suggests that “the basic disagreement between the authors and me arises from the concept of details—specifically how details are perceived by humans, who think in language, compared with animals, who think in sensory-based data. Since animals do not have verbal language, they have to store memories as pictures, sounds, or other sensory impressions.” And sensory-based information, she says, is inherently more detailed than word-based memories. “As a person with autism, all my thoughts are in photo-realistic pictures,” she explains. “The main similarity between animal thought and my thought is the lack of verbal language.”
Though Grandin appreciates the authors’ “fascinating overview of the most recent research on animal cognition,” she suggests that “further experiments need to be done with birds to either confirm or disprove Vallortigara et al.’s hypothesis that birds such as the Clark’s nutcracker, which has savant-like memory for food storage, has retained good cognition in other domains. My hypothesis is that birds that have savant-like skills for food storage sites or remembering migration routes may be less flexible in their cognition.” Grandin welcomes the discussion following the publication of her book—we invite readers to join in that discussion by posting their own Reader Response.
Citation: Vallortigara G, Snyder A, Kaplan G, Bateson P, Clayton NS, et al. (2008) Are animals autistic savants? PLoS Biol 6(2): e42. doi:10.1371/journal. pbio.0060042
Andrew Hyde | alfa
‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für marine Mikrobiologie
Calcium Induces Chronic Lung Infections
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy