Does stochastic resonance improve performance for individuals with higher autism-spectrum quotient?

Pratik Raul, Kate McNally, Lawrence M. Ward, Jeroen J.A. van Boxtel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


While noise is generally believed to impair performance, the detection of weak stimuli can sometimes be enhanced by introducing optimum noise levels. This phenomenon is termed ‘Stochastic Resonance’ (SR). Past evidence suggests that autistic individuals exhibit higher neural noise than neurotypical individuals. It has been proposed that the enhanced performance in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on some tasks could be due to SR. Here we present a computational model, lab-based, and online visual identification experiments to find corroborating evidence for this hypothesis in individuals without a formal ASD diagnosis. Our modeling predicts that artificially increasing noise results in SR for individuals with low internal noise (e.g., neurotypical), however not for those with higher internal noise (e.g., autistic, or neurotypical individuals with higher autistic traits). It also predicts that at low stimulus noise, individuals with higher internal noise outperform those with lower internal noise. We tested these predictions using visual identification tasks among participants from the general population with autistic traits measured by the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ). While all participants showed SR in the lab-based experiment, this did not support our model strongly. In the online experiment, significant SR was not found, however participants with higher AQ scores outperformed those with lower AQ scores at low stimulus noise levels, which is consistent with our modeling. In conclusion, our study is the first to investigate the link between SR and superior performance by those with ASD-related traits, and reports limited evidence to support the high neural noise/SR hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1110714
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2023


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