Self-referenced processing, neurodevelopment and joint attention in autism

Peter Clive Mundy, Mary Gwaltney, Heather Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


This article describes a parallel and distributed processing model (PDPM) of joint attention, self-referenced processing and autism. According to this model, autism involves early impairments in the capacity for rapid, integrated processing of self-referenced (proprioceptive and interoceptive) and other-referenced (exteroceptive) information. Measures of joint attention have proven useful in research on autism because they are sensitive to the early development of the 'parallel' and integrated processing of self-and other-referenced stimuli. Moreover, joint attention behaviors are a consequence, but also an organizer of the functional development of a distal distributed cortical system involving anterior networks including the prefrontal and insula cortices, as well as posterior neural networks including the temporal and parietal cortices. Measures of joint attention provide early behavioral indicators of atypical development in this parallel and distributed processing system in autism. In addition it is proposed that an early, chronic disturbance in the capacity for integrating self-and otherreferenced information may have cascading effects on the development of self awareness in autism. The assumptions, empirical support and future research implications of this model are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-429
Number of pages22
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • distributed cortical processes
  • joint attention
  • neurodevelopment
  • other referenced information processing
  • self referenced information processing
  • self referenced memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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