there is some overlap in impairments in social perception, with both groupsshowing an impaired ability to process facial affect in others, and to modulatetheir behaviour in relation to social setting (e.g. Bellugi et al.,1999). Thus,examining both disorders in conjunction in order to determine the causalprocesses behind both the opposing and overlapping features can betterfacilitate our understanding of normal perceptual development.Any abnormalities in attention or orienting to stimuli, at a conscious orunconscious level, will exert cascading effects on all later stages of perceptualprocessing. Some data indicate attentional abnormalities in both WS and ADwhich may account for atypical later-level perceptual processing. In autisticpopulations, abnormalities in the cerebellum region, in particular vermal lobulesVI and VII, have been related to impaired attentional and orienting skills(Courchesne, 2004; Stanfield et al., 2008; McAlonan et al., 2002). Furthermore,behavioural measures of attentional abnormalities indicate a deficit insensorimotor gating abilities (as assessed by prepulse inhibition)
, in tests of both automatic attention (Perry et al., 2007) and voluntary attention (McAlonanet al., 2002), despite no group differences in general startle response. Thisfinding has been replicated with relative consistency, although some equivocalresults have been reported (e.g. Ornitz et al., 1993). Thus, autistic persons areimpaired in their ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli, and therefore toappropriately attend to and process relevant stimuli. This may have implicationsfor later preferences to process perceptual information at a local level, althoughthis needs empirical testing. While sensorimotor gating deficits have not beenreported in WS, with these patients showing relatively preserved functioning of the cerebellum (Jones et al., 2001), opposing attentional abnormalities existbetween the two groups which may play a role in both the similarities in someareas of social perception and differences in face processing abilities. The twogroups display opposing attentional reactions to faces – persons with WS displayan abnormally large N200 amplitude (an index of attention to faces) compared totypically developing controls; in contrast persons with an ASD display anabnormally small N200 amplitude (Mills et al., 2001). As will be discussed later,such a difference in the attentional resources devoted to face processing mayhave implications for group differences in later-level face perception.Furthermore, both groups are characterized by deficiencies in establishing jointattention. Specifically, autism appears to be characterized by deficiencies ininitiating joint attention with a social partner, with the severity of this impairmentpredicting the intensity of social symptoms (Mundy, 2003); this has been relatedto problems integrating the anterior and posterior attention systems in infancy
(Mundy et al., 2000). Behavioural evidence of difficulties establishing joint
Prepulse inhibition involves determining the extent to which a weak auditory prepulseattenuates the subsequent eye-blink response to a loud, startling noise (Braff and Geyer,1990).
The posterior attention is a relatively involuntary attention system which subservesorientation towards biologically meaningful stimuli, and is supported by the parietal andsuperior temporal cortices; the anterior attention system is a later developing volitionalsystem, and involves a neural network which includes the prefrontal association cortex,the orbital frontal cortex and the anterior cingulate (Posner and Rothbart, 2007).