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University of Pennsylvania

IRCS Technical Reports Series Institute for Research in Cognitive Science


Does television cause autism? A theoretical account.
Benjamin Backus
University of Pennsylvania, backus@psych.upenn.edu

University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-07-01. This paper is posted at ScholarlyCommons. http://repository.upenn.edu/ircs_reports/201 For more information, please contact repository@pobox.upenn.edu.

Does television cause autism? A theoretical account. Benjamin T. Backus Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania 3401 Walnut St., 302C, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6228 backus@psych.upenn.edu 215-573-9341 February 16, 2007 The incidence of autism spectrum disorders may have increased in the past few decades. If so, it is important to identify possible causes. Here we consider whether exposure to artificial displays such as television in the first year or two of life is a contributing factor for infants already at risk of autism. Correlational studies and anecdotal evidence from clinical practice are consistent with this hypothesis, as Anna Baumgaertel will discuss in the next talk. Are there also theoretical reasons for concern? During perception, visual and other sensory systems collect sense data. From these data they construct representations of the local environment. The “way things look” is a result of this automatic process. But how is this mapping from sense data onto perceptual representations established in an individual? Many questions remain unanswered, but we do know that the mapping depends both on innate predispositions (pre-programmed neural circuits and activity) and on experience (changes in circuits and learned patterns of neural activity). Some examples include that it takes many months for a person with congenital cataracts to make functional use of vision after the cataracts are removed, that infants whose eyes are not...