Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are reported to allocate less spontaneous attention to voices. Here, we investigated how vocal sounds are processed in ASD adults, when those sounds are attended. Participants were asked to react as fast as possible to target stimuli (either voices or strings) while ignoring distracting stimuli. Response times (RTs) were measured. Results showed that, similar to neurotypical (NT) adults, ASD adults were faster to recognize voices compared to strings. Surprisingly, ASD adults had even shorter RTs for voices than the NT adults, suggesting a faster voice recognition process. To investigate the acoustic underpinnings of this effect, we created auditory chimeras that retained only the temporal or the spectral features of voices. For the NT group, no RT advantage was found for the chimeras compared to strings: both sets of features had to be present to observe an RT advantage. However, for the ASD group, shorter RTs were observed for both chimeras. These observations indicate that the previously observed attentional deficit to voices in ASD individuals could be due to a failure to combine acoustic features, even though such features may be well represented at a sensory level.
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