in Attention, Monotropism and the Diagnostic Criteria for Autism (PDF) by Dinah Murray, Mike Lesser and Wendy Lawson, published in Autism, Vol. 9, No. 2, May 2005
At any one moment the amount of attention available to a conscious individual is limited. The limited availability of attention plays a fundamental role in everyday life. The assumption that attention is quantitively limited is supported by the finite supply of metabolites available to the brain. It is implicit throughout experimental psychology in the concept of task demand. The authors suggest competition between mental processes for scarce attention is an important factor in the shaping of the cognitive process.
It is generaly accepted that focus is a quality of attention. However this optical metaphor may be extended to parameterise focus of attention between diffused light at one extreme and a torch beam at the other. That is to say attention may be broadly distributed over many interests or may be concentrated in a few interests. The authors propose that the strategies employed for the allocation of attention are normally distributed and to a large degree genetically determined.
We propose that diagnosis of autism selects those few individuals at the deep or tight-focus extreme of this distribution of strategies. Furthermore the authors propose social interactions, the use of language, and the shifting of the object of attention, are all tasks that require broadly distributed attention. Consequently these activities are inhibited by the canalisation of available attention into few highly aroused interests.
Our hypothesis is that the difference between autistic and non-autistic is a difference in the strategies employed in the distribution of scarce attention. That is to say the difference between having few interests highly aroused, the monotropic tendency, and having many interests less highly aroused, the polytropic tendency. An aroused interest is an interest charged with feeling. We use the word ‘interest’ in a way which broadly coincides with common parlance.
Dinah Murray: Normal and Otherwise
Dinah Murray: An Autistic Friendship
Dinah Murray: Wrong Planet Syndrome
Dinah Murray: UCL, Linguistics, and Autism
Dinah Murray and Mike Lesser: Autism and Computing
Mike Lesser and Dinah Murray: Mind as a Dynamical System: Implications for Autism
Mike Lesser and Dinah Murray: A model of the Interest System
Wendy Lawson: Asperger’s Syndrome: A Matter of Attention
Mike Lesser and Fergus Murray: NOI4 - Interactive Animation of the Interest System