With our recent foray into studying memory, categories and object recognition, I was immediately drawn to the idea of how autism plays a part in cognitive psychology. The example that occurred to me the most was from the movie Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond was able to immediately recognize the number of toothpicks as soon as they were dropped on the floor during this scene. He said “82” out loud three times which equals out to 246, the number of toothpicks on the floor. There were 250 total but 4 were left in the box, meaning Raymond either counted or simply knew the amount on the floor in a matter of seconds.
This comes back to the question I posed during class regarding people who can memorize Pi up to an absurd number and Dr. Rettinger stated that people who know it likely have an eidetic memory, allowing them to have an absurd string of numbers memorized. The current world record as of 2005 is 67,890 digits just to put that into perspective.
In the movie, Raymond was also able to memorize the names and phone numbers of people in the phone book up to “G” and this further solidifies the point that as someone who has autism, his immediate and long-term memory are considered abnormal and almost superhuman. During this scene, Raymond said he was reading the phone book the night before; therefore the implication there is that within the span of about 12 hours or so, he was able to use his short-term and working memory to completely memorize A through half of G in the phone book. This should be impossible considering short-term memory is only about 18-30 seconds. Raymond’s working memory is beyond human because normally we can consciously only remember 4 to 5 things at a time.
I just found this particularly fascinating because of how rapidly he can recall this information and recite it perfectly without any issue whatsoever, as seen when they are greeted by their waitress at the diner. A similar situation is seen in another part of the movie when they are in Vegas counting cards and winning big at Blackjack.
This scene also shows the inability for Raymond to act in a naturally cognitive fashion, as he reacts very childishly and immature when his brother grabs his neck and “hurts him,” citing it as a serious injury in his notebook.
The other part of this blog post involves categorization and object recognition with an article I found in a journal by researching on JSTOR. I will provide the link right here.
I found this article particularly fascinating because it studied typicality effects between children with autism versus healthy children ages 9-12 and 13-16 in two different study groups. As you can see in the graph of the reaction time, the autistic children were much slower than the healthy children in terms of typical categories and somewhat typical categories but the time in which it took them to recognize things of an atypical category were significantly higher and more dramatic, 42% more slowly to be exact.
This means that in spite of autism affecting things on a cognitive level in positive ways, such as with Raymond and his ability to instantly recognize numbers and patterns as well as memorize things on a superhuman level, it adversely affects them in very negative ways such as with their object recognition and ability to categorize things in simple ways.
This is definitely something that I just find intriguing and wanted to really share with the people in this class in order to raise some awareness of what people with autism have to deal with, even people on a high-functioning level or those that are just on the spectrum. My younger brother, incidentally, is a high-functioning autistic and these kinds of studies are especially meaningful to me in that regard.