This simple optical illusion could help diagnose autism in seconds

Autism has always been a difficult field of study, and probably this simple method could help find out some of the very intriguing answers.


                            This simple optical illusion could help diagnose autism in seconds

Along the lines of the famous "hollow mask" illusion, which has been used as a way to test schizophrenia, researchers have come up with a new test that might help diagnose autism through an optical illusion. Unlike the "hollow mask" test where the viewer perceives a concave face as a convex face, the new study has found out that the changes in the size of a person's pupil as he/she observes a three-dimensional spinning cylinder could relate to the probability of displaying autistic traits. In the study published by the journal eLife, it has been stated that if a person's pupils dilate while watching the optical illusion of the three-dimensional cylinder, there are high chances of the person having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The test takes note of how the pupils' size change depending on whether the person is looking at the white dots or the black ones. Conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy, it was found out that the test could be used to objectively detect how some people tend to focus on the details and miss out on the bigger picture. 

The rotating cylinder could be used to detect autism. (Turi et al. 2018)
The rotating cylinder could be used to detect autism. (Turi et al. 2018)

ASD often results in difficulties in processing sensory information that often leads to odd behaviors like avoidance of overstimulation or repetitive movements. In order to detect pupil behavior, two layers of black and white dots are made to move in opposite directions within a narrow column.

If a person's pupil contract or expand while observing the illusion, it might be because they were more detail-oriented while watching the pattern. The person is basically focusing on each dot move from left to right, changing its color from white to black. On the other hand, others can view the image as a whole, not necessarily focusing on every single dot. 

In this way, focusing on a single color or a single movement oscillates the size of the pupil. Other than the optical illusion, there is also a separate questionnaire and those with higher scores are more likely to have autistic traits. They are then shown the rotating image while the focus of the test remains on their pupils. Researchers found out that the same people who had scored higher would often respond in a detail-oriented manner to the image.

Researchers ran the test on 50 adults who had not been diagnosed with ASD. However, a lot more work is yet to be done on the test, and it cannot be considered the last word for detecting autism.