How Do We Explain ‛Autistic Traits’ in European Upper Palaeolithic Art?

Penny Spikins 1 , Callum Scott 2  and Barry Wright 3
  • 1 University of York, , York, UK
  • 2 Department of Archaeology, University of , York, UK
  • 3 Department of Health Sciences University of , York, UK

Abstract

Traits in Upper Palaeolithic art which are also seen in the work of talented artists with autism, including most obviously an exceptional realism, remain to be explained. However any association between the famously evocative animal depictions created in the European Upper Palaeolithic and what is commonly seen as a ‘disorder’ has always been contentious. Debate over these similarities has been heated, with explanations ranging from famous works of Upper Palaeolithic art having been created by individuals with autism spectrum conditions, to being influenced by such individuals, to being a product of the use of psychotropic drugs. Here we argue that ‘autistic traits’ in art, such as extreme realism, have been created by individuals with a cognitive extreme of local processing bias, or detail focus. The significance of local processing bias, which is found both as a feature of autism spectrum conditions and in artists with exceptional talent at realistic depiction who aren’t autistic, has implications for our understanding of Upper Palaeolithic society in general, as well as of the roles played by individuals with autism spectrum conditions.

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