THE EFFECTS OF NOISE ON AUTONOMIC AROUSAL AND ATTENTION AND THE RELATIONSHIP TO AUTISM SYMPTOMATOLOGY
Experiment One: The Effect of Noise on Autonomic Arousal
In response to the growing demand for research that helps us understand the complex interactions between Autonomic Arousal (AA) on behavior and performance there is an increasing need for robust techniques to efficiently utilize stimuli, such as sound, to vary the level of AA within a study. The goal of this study was to look at the impact of several factors, including sound intensity, order of presentation, and direction of presentation on skin conductance level, a widely utilized technique for approximating levels of AA. To do this we had 34 young adults ages 18- 34 listen to a series of 2-minute blocks of a sound stimuli based off a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC). Blocks included 5 single intensity conditions each block differing in 10 dBA steps ranging from 35-75 dBA. We presented blocks in both rising and falling level of intensity, with half the participants hearing them in a rising order first and half in a falling order first. The evidence found by this study suggests that increasing the sound level plays an important role in increasing AA and habituation is an extremely important factor that must be accounted for as it, in the case of typical young adults, quickly dampens the response to stimuli and subsequent stimuli. These findings suggest that researchers can best efficiently maximize the range of AA they can use while keeping their participants comfortable by starting out with the most intense stimuli and proceeding to the less intense stimuli, working with habitation instead of against it.
Experiment Two: The Effect of Autonomic Arousal on Visual Attention
The goal of this study was to better understand how various levels of autonomic arousal impact different components of attentional control and if ASD-related traits indexed by Autism Quotient scores (AQ) might relate to alterations in this relationship. This study had 41 young adult participants (23 women, 17 men, 1 prefer not to say), ages ranging from 18 to 38 years old. Participants listened to varying levels of noise to induce changes in AA, which were recorded as changes in skin conductance level (SCL). To evaluate attentional control, participants preformed pro and anti-saccade visual gap–overlap paradigm tasks as measures of attentional control. The findings of this study suggest that increased levels of autonomic arousal are helpful for improving performance on anti-saccade tasks, which are heavily dependent on top-down attentional control. Additionally, increases in AQ scores were related to having less of a benefit from increasing levels of arousal on anti-saccade tasks. Additional interactions were also found and are discussed in this paper.