Dr. James Yearsley
The Intra-Extra-dimensional set shift task (IEDS) is a widely used test of learning and attention, believed to be sensitive to aspects of executive function. The task proceeds through a number of stages, and it is generally claimed that patterns of errors across stages can be used to discriminate between reduced attention switching and more general reductions in rates of learning. A number of papers have used the IEDS task to argue for specific attention shifting difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Schizophrenia, however, it remains unclear how well the IEDS really differentiates between reduced attention shifting and other causes of impaired performance. To address this issue, we introduce a simple computational model of performance in the IEDS task, designed to separate the competing effects of attention shifting and general learning rate. We fit the model to data from ASD and comparison individuals matched on age and IQ, as well as to data from four previous studies which used the IEDS task, using a combination of MCMC and Approximate Bayesian Computation techniques. Model fits do not show consistent evidence for reductions in attention shifting rates in ASD and Schizophrenia. Instead, we find performance is better explained by differences in learning rate, particularly from punishment, which we show correlates with IQ. We, therefore, argue that the IEDS task is not a good measure of attention shifting in clinical group.