Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) typically show impaired eye contact during social interactions. From a young age, they look less at faces than typically developing (TD) children and tend to avoid direct gaze. However, the reason for this behavior remains controversial; ASD children might avoid eye contact because they perceive the eyes as aversive or because they do not find social engagement through mutual gaze rewarding.
We monitored pupillary diameter as a measure of autonomic response in children with ASD (n = 20, mean age = 12.4) and TD controls (n = 18, mean age = 13.7) while they looked at faces displaying different emotions. Each face displayed happy, fearful, angry or neutral emotions with the gaze either directed to or averted from the subjects.
Overall, children with ASD and TD controls showed similar pupillary responses; however, they differed significantly in their sensitivity to gaze direction for happy faces. Specifically, pupillary diameter increased among TD children when viewing happy faces with direct gaze as compared to those with averted gaze, whereas children with ASD did not show such sensitivity to gaze direction. We found no group differences in fixation that could explain the differential pupillary responses. There was no effect of gaze direction on pupil diameter for negative affect or neutral faces among either the TD or ASD group.
We interpret the increased pupillary diameter to happy faces with direct gaze in TD children to reflect the intrinsic reward value of a smiling face looking directly at an individual. The lack of this effect in children with ASD is consistent with the hypothesis that individuals with ASD may have reduced sensitivity to the reward value of social stimuli.
Autism; Pupillary response; Reward processing
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by significant social impairments, including deficits in orienting attention following social cues. Behavioral studies investigating social orienting in ASD, however, have yielded mixed results, as the use of naturalistic paradigms typically reveals clear deficits whereas computerized laboratory experiments often report normative behavior. The present study is the first to examine the neural mechanisms underlying social orienting in ASD in order to provide new insight into the social attention impairments that characterize this disorder. Using fMRI, we examined the neural correlates of social orienting in children and adolescents with ASD and in a matched sample of typically developing (TD) controls while they performed a spatial cueing paradigm with social (eye gaze) and nonsocial (arrow) cues. Cues were either directional (indicating left or right) or neutral (indicating no direction), and directional cues were uninformative of the upcoming target location in order to engage automatic processes by minimizing expectations. Behavioral results demonstrated intact orienting effects for social and nonsocial cues, with no differences between groups. The imaging results, however, revealed clear group differences in brain activity. When attention was directed by social cues compared to nonsocial cues, the TD group showed increased activity in frontoparietal attention networks, visual processing regions, and the striatum, whereas the ASD group only showed increased activity in the superior parietal lobule. Significant group × cue type interactions confirmed greater responsivity in task-relevant networks for social cues than nonsocial cues in TD as compared to ASD, despite similar behavioral performance. These results indicate that, in the autistic brain, social cues are not assigned the same privileged status as they are in the typically developing brain. These findings provide the first empirical evidence that the neural circuitry involved in social orienting is disrupted in ASD and highlight that normative behavioral performance in a laboratory setting may reflect compensatory mechanisms rather than intact social attention.
autism; attention; functional magnetic resonance imaging; gaze; social cue
Three experiments explored attention to eye gaze, which is incompletely understood in typical development and is hypothesized to be disrupted in autism. Experiment 1 (n=26 typical adults) involved covert orienting to box, arrow, and gaze cues at two probabilities and cue-target times to test whether reorienting for gaze is endogenous, exogenous, or unique; experiment 2 (total n=80: male and female children and adults) studied age and sex effects on gaze cueing. Gaze cueing appears endogenous and may strengthen in typical development. Experiment 3 tested exogenous, endogenous, and/or gaze-based orienting in 25 typical and 27 Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children. ASD children made more saccades, slowing their reaction times; however, exogenous and endogenous orienting, including gaze cueing, appear intact in ASD.
gaze; box; arrow; vision; oculomotor; child
We examined functional connectivity of the amygdala in preadolescent children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) during spontaneous attention to eye-gaze in emotional faces. Children responded to a target word (“LEFT/RIGHT”) printed on angry or fearful faces looking in a direction that was congruent, incongruent, or neutral with the target word. Despite being irrelevant to the task, gaze-direction facilitated (Congruent > Neutral) or interfered with (Incongruent > Congruent) performance in both groups. Despite similar behavioral performance, amygdala-connectivity was atypical and more widespread in children with ASD. In control children, the amygdala was more strongly connected with an emotional cognitive control region (subgenual cingulate) during interference, while during facilitation, no regions showed greater amygdala connectivity than in ASD children. In contrast, in children with ASD the amygdala was more strongly connected to salience and cognitive control regions (posterior and dorsal cingulate) during facilitation and with regions involved in gaze processing (superior temporal sulcus), cognitive control (inferior frontal gyrus), and processing of viscerally salient information (pregenual cingulate, anterior insula, and thalamus) during interference. These findings showing more widespread connectivity of the amygdala extend past findings of atypical functional anatomy of eye-gaze processing in children with ASD and challenge views of general underconnectivity in ASD.
Prior studies have indicated brain abnormalities underlying social processing in autism, but no fMRI study has specifically addressed the differential processing of direct and averted gaze, a critical social cue. Fifteen adolescents and adults with autism and 14 typically developing comparison participants viewed dynamic virtual-reality videos depicting a simple but realistic social scenario, in which an approaching male figure maintained either direct or averted gaze. Significant group by condition interactions reflecting differential responses to direct versus averted gaze in people with autism relative to typically developing individuals were identified in the right temporoparietal junction, right anterior insula, left lateral occipital cortex, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Our results provide initial evidence regarding brain mechanisms underlying the processing of gaze direction during simple social encounters, providing new insight into the social deficits in individuals with autism.
Autism; direct gaze; averted gaze; gaze processing; functional magnetic resonance imaging
Visual communication cues facilitate interpersonal communication. It is important that we look at faces to retrieve and subsequently process such cues. It is also important that we sometimes look away from faces as they increase cognitive load that may interfere with online processing. Indeed, when typically developing individuals hold face gaze it interferes with task completion. In this novel study we quantify face interference for the first time in Williams syndrome (WS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These disorders of development impact on cognition and social attention, but how do faces interfere with cognitive processing? Individuals developing typically as well as those with ASD (n = 19) and WS (n = 16) were recorded during a question and answer session that involved mathematics questions. In phase 1 gaze behaviour was not manipulated, but in phase 2 participants were required to maintain eye contact with the experimenter at all times. Looking at faces decreased task accuracy for individuals who were developing typically. Critically, the same pattern was seen in WS and ASD, whereby task performance decreased when participants were required to hold face gaze. The results show that looking at faces interferes with task performance in all groups. This finding requires the caveat that individuals with WS and ASD found it harder than individuals who were developing typically to maintain eye contact throughout the interaction. Individuals with ASD struggled to hold eye contact at all points of the interaction while those with WS found it especially difficult when thinking.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are impaired in visually disengaging attention in both social and non-social contexts, impairments that may, in subtler form, also affect the infant siblings of children with an ASD (ASD-sibs). We investigated patterns of visual attention (gazing) in six-month-old ASD-sibs (n = 17) and the siblings of typically developing children (COMP-sibs; n =17) during the Face-to-Face/Still-Face Protocol (FFSF), in which parents are sequentially responsive, nonresponsive, and responsive to their infants. Throughout the protocol, ASD-sibs shifted their gaze to and from their parents' faces less frequently than did COMP-sibs. The mean durations of ASD-sibs’ gazes away from their parents' faces were longer than those of COMP-sibs. ASD-sibs and COMP-sibs did not differ in the mean durations of gazes at their parents' faces. In sum, ASD-sibs showed no deficits in visual interest to their parents’ faces, but greater interest than COMP-sibs in non-face stimuli.
autism spectrum disorders; siblings; at-risk; disengagement; early deficits
Eye gaze is a fundamental component of human communication. During the first post-natal year, infants rapidly learn that the gaze of others provides socially significant information. In addition, infants are sensitive to several emotional expressions. However, little is known regarding how eye contact influences the way the infant brain processes emotional expressions. We measured 4-month-old infants’ brain electric activity to assess neural processing of faces displaying neutral, happy and angry emotional expressions when accompanied by direct and averted eye gaze. The results show that processing of angry facial expressions was influenced by eye gaze. In particular, infants showed enhanced neural processing of angry expressions when these expressions were accompanied by direct eye gaze. These results show that by 4 months of age, the infant detects angry emotional expressions, and the infant brain processes their relevance to the self.
infants; EEG; eye gaze; social cognition; ERP
Difficulty interpreting facial expressions has been reported in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and is thought to be associated with amygdala abnormalities. To further explore the neural basis of abnormal emotional face processing in ASD, we conducted an fMRI study of emotional face matching in high-functioning adults with ASD and age, IQ, and gender matched controls. In addition, we investigated whether there was a relationship between self-reported social anxiety and fMRI activation. During fMRI scanning, study participants were instructed to match facial expressions depicting fear or anger. The control condition was a comparable shape - matching task. The control group evidenced significantly increased left prefrontal activation and decreased activation in the occipital lobes compared to the ASD group during emotional face matching. Further, within the ASD group, greater social anxiety was associated with increased activation in right amygdala and left middle temporal gyrus, and decreased activation in the fusiform face area. These results indicate that level of social anxiety mediates the neural response to emotional face perception in ASD.
Autism; Asperger’s disorder; amygdala; anxiety; emotional face processing; fusiform face area
Persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are known to have difficulty in eye contact (EC). This may make it difficult for their partners during face to face communication with them. To elucidate the neural substrates of live inter-subject interaction of ASD patients and normal subjects, we conducted hyper-scanning functional MRI with 21 subjects with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) paired with typically-developed (normal) subjects, and with 19 pairs of normal subjects as a control. Baseline EC was maintained while subjects performed real-time joint-attention task. The task-related effects were modeled out, and inter-individual correlation analysis was performed on the residual time-course data. ASD–Normal pairs were less accurate at detecting gaze direction than Normal–Normal pairs. Performance was impaired both in ASD subjects and in their normal partners. The left occipital pole (OP) activation by gaze processing was reduced in ASD subjects, suggesting that deterioration of eye-cue detection in ASD is related to impairment of early visual processing of gaze. On the other hand, their normal partners showed greater activity in the bilateral occipital cortex and the right prefrontal area, indicating a compensatory workload. Inter-brain coherence in the right IFG that was observed in the Normal-Normal pairs (Saito et al., 2010) during EC diminished in ASD–Normal pairs. Intra-brain functional connectivity between the right IFG and right superior temporal sulcus (STS) in normal subjects paired with ASD subjects was reduced compared with in Normal–Normal pairs. This functional connectivity was positively correlated with performance of the normal partners on the eye-cue detection. Considering the integrative role of the right STS in gaze processing, inter-subject synchronization during EC may be a prerequisite for eye cue detection by the normal partner.
functional connectivity; hyperscanning; inter-subject coherence; joint attention; mutual gaze; autistic spectrum disorder; functional magnetic resonance imaging
Although the extant literature on face recognition skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) shows clear impairments compared to typically developing controls (TDC) at the group level, the distribution of scores within ASD is broad. In the present research, we take a dimensional approach and explore how differences in social attention during an eye tracking experiment correlate with face recognition skills across ASD and TDC. Emotional discrimination and person identity perception face processing skills were assessed using the Let's Face It! Skills Battery in 110 children with and without ASD. Social attention was assessed using infrared eye gaze tracking during passive viewing of movies of facial expressions and objects displayed together on a computer screen. Face processing skills were significantly correlated with measures of attention to faces and with social skills as measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ). Consistent with prior research, children with ASD scored significantly lower on face processing skills tests but, unexpectedly, group differences in amount of attention to faces (vs. objects) were not found. We discuss possible methodological contributions to this null finding. We also highlight the importance of a dimensional approach for understanding the developmental origins of reduced face perception skills, and emphasize the need for longitudinal research to truly understand how social motivation and social attention influence the development of social perceptual skills.
autism; eye tracking; face processing; eyetracking; autism spectrum disorder; ASD
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have documented deficits in face processing, face memory and abnormal activation of the neural circuitry that supports these functions. To examine speed of processing of faces in ASD, high density event-related brain potentials were recorded to images of faces, inverted faces and non-face objects from 32 high-functioning adults with ASD and controls. Participants were instructed to focus on a cross hair prior to stimulus onset; the cross-hair location directed the participant's eye gaze to the eye region at stimulus onset. Although the ASD group preformed more poorly on behavioral tests of face and object memory, both groups demonstrated similar ERP responses, characterized by greater (positive) P1 and (negative) N170 amplitude to faces vs houses. N170 speed of processing to faces did not differ between groups. However, only the control group demonstrated differential responses to upright vs inverted faces. For the ASD group, the differential response to inverted vs upright faces was associated with better performance on face memory and self-reported social skills. It is possible that the use of attention cues may facilitate face processing in high-functioning adults with ASD, suggesting that the underlying neural circuitry can be activated in adults with ASD under specific demands.
event-related potential; P100; N170; autism; face processing
To examine prospectively the emergence of behavioral signs of autism in the first years of life in infants at low and high risk for autism.
A prospective longitudinal design was used to compare 25 infants later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with 25 gender-matched low-risk children later determined to have typical development. Participants were evaluated at 6, 12, 18, 24, and 36 months of age. Frequencies of gaze to faces, social smiles, and directed vocalizations were coded from video and rated by examiners.
The frequency of gaze to faces, shared smiles, and vocalizations to others were highly comparable between groups at 6 months of age, but significantly declining trajectories over time were apparent in the group later diagnosed with ASD. Group differences were significant by 12 months of age on most variables. Although repeated evaluation documented loss of skills in most infants with ASD, most parents did not report a regression in their child’s development.
These results suggest that behavioral signs of autism are not present at birth, as once suggested by Kanner, but emerge over time through a process of diminishment of key social communication behaviors. More children may present with a regressive course than previously thought, but parent report methods do not capture this phenomenon well. Implications for onset classification systems and clinical screening are also discussed.
Autism; Onset; Infancy; Regression
Visual behavior is known to be atypical in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Monitor-based eye-tracking studies have measured several of these atypicalities in individuals with Autism. While atypical behaviors are known to be accentuated during natural interactions, few studies have been made on gaze behavior in natural interactions. In this study we focused on i) whether the findings done in laboratory settings are also visible in a naturalistic interaction; ii) whether new atypical elements appear when studying visual behavior across the whole field of view.
Ten children with ASD and ten typically developing children participated in a dyadic interaction with an experimenter administering items from the Early Social Communication Scale (ESCS). The children wore a novel head-mounted eye-tracker, measuring gaze direction and presence of faces across the child's field of view. The analysis of gaze episodes to faces revealed that children with ASD looked significantly less and for shorter lapses of time at the experimenter. The analysis of gaze patterns across the child's field of view revealed that children with ASD looked downwards and made more extensive use of their lateral field of view when exploring the environment.
The data gathered in naturalistic settings confirm findings previously obtained only in monitor-based studies. Moreover, the study allowed to observe a generalized strategy of lateral gaze in children with ASD when they were looking at the objects in their environment.
Eye tracking has been used to investigate gaze behaviours in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, traditional analysis has yet to find behavioural characteristics shared by both children and adults with ASD. To distinguish core ASD gaze behaviours from those that change with development, we examined temporo-spatial gaze patterns in children and adults with and without ASD while they viewed video clips. We summarized the gaze patterns of 104 participants using multidimensional scaling so that participants with similar gaze patterns would cluster together in a two-dimensional plane. Control participants clustered in the centre, reflecting a standard gaze behaviour, whereas participants with ASD were distributed around the periphery. Moreover, children and adults were separated on the plane, thereby showing a clear effect of development on gaze behaviours. Post hoc frame-by-frame analyses revealed the following findings: (i) both ASD groups shifted their gaze away from a speaker earlier than the control groups; (ii) both ASD groups showed a particular preference for letters; and (iii) typical infants preferred to watch the mouth rather than the eyes during speech, a preference that reversed with development. These results highlight the importance of taking the effect of development into account when addressing gaze behaviours characteristic of ASD.
eye tracking; eye movements; autism; development; mouth viewing; turn taking
Gaze cueing was assessed in children with autism and in typically developing children, using a computer-controlled “live” face-to-face procedure. Sensitivity to gaze direction was assessed using a Posner cuing paradigm. Both static and dynamic directional gaze cues were used. Consistent with many previous studies, using photographic and cartoon faces, gaze cueing was present in children with autism and was not developmentally delayed. However, in the same children, gaze cueing was abolished when a mouth movement occurred at the same time as the gaze cue. In contrast, typical children were able to use gaze cues in all conditions. The findings indicate that gaze cueing develops successfully in some children with autism but that their attention is disrupted by speech utterances. Their ability to learn to read nonverbal emotional and intentional signals provided by the eyes may therefore be significantly impaired. This may indicate a problem with cross-modal attention control or an abnormal sensitivity to peripheral motion in general or the mouth region in particular.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. The severity of these characteristics are posited to lie on a continuum extending into the typical population, and typical adults' performance on behavioural tasks that are impaired in ASD is correlated with the extent to which they display autistic traits (as measured by Autism Spectrum Quotient, AQ). Individuals with ASD also show structural and functional differences in brain regions involved in social perception. Here we show that variation in AQ in typically developing individuals is associated with altered brain activity in the neural circuit for social attention perception while viewing others' eye gaze. In an fMRI experiment, participants viewed faces looking at variable or constant directions. In control conditions, only the eye region was presented or the heads were shown with eyes closed but oriented at variable or constant directions. The response to faces with variable vs. constant eye gaze direction was associated with AQ scores in a number of regions (posterior superior temporal sulcus, intraparietal sulcus, temporoparietal junction, amygdala, and MT/V5) of the brain network for social attention perception. No such effect was observed for heads with eyes closed or when only the eyes were presented. The results demonstrate a relationship between neurophysiology and autism spectrum traits in the typical (non-ASD) population and suggest that changes in the functioning of the neural circuit for social attention perception is associated with an extended autism spectrum in the typical population.
► Autistic spectrum might extend to typically developing (TD) individuals. ► We studied TD individuals with varying Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). ► AQ correlated with BOLD response to viewing variable vs. constant eye gaze. ► AQ did not correlate with response to directional control stimuli. ► Neurophysiology and autism spectrum traits are associated in non-AS individuals.
Eye gaze; fMRI; Autism spectrum; Attention; Face perception
Others’ gaze and emotional facial expression are important cues for the process of attention orienting. Here, we investigated with magnetoencephalography (MEG) whether the combination of averted gaze and fearful expression may elicit a selectively early effect of attention orienting on the brain responses to targets. We used the direction of gaze of centrally presented fearful and happy faces as the spatial attention orienting cue in a Posner-like paradigm where the subjects had to detect a target checkerboard presented at gazed-at (valid trials) or non gazed-at (invalid trials) locations of the screen. We showed that the combination of averted gaze and fearful expression resulted in a very early attention orienting effect in the form of additional parietal activity between 55 and 70 ms for the valid versus invalid targets following fearful gaze cues. No such effect was obtained for the targets following happy gaze cues. This early cue-target validity effect selective of fearful gaze cues involved the left superior parietal region and the left lateral middle occipital region. These findings provide the first evidence for an effect of attention orienting induced by fearful gaze in the time range of C1. In doing so, they demonstrate the selective impact of combined gaze and fearful expression cues in the process of attention orienting.
The direction of others’ eye gaze has important influences on how we perceive their emotional expressions. Here, we examined differences in neural activation to direct- versus averted-gaze fear faces as a function of culture of the participant (Japanese versus US Caucasian), culture of the stimulus face (Japanese versus US Caucasian), and the relation between the two. We employed a previously validated paradigm to examine differences in neural activation in response to rapidly presented direct- versus averted-fear expressions, finding clear evidence for a culturally determined role of gaze in the processing of fear. Greater neural responsivity was apparent to averted- versus direct-gaze fear in several regions related to face and emotion processing, including bilateral amygdalae, when posed on same-culture faces, whereas greater response to direct- versus averted-gaze fear was apparent in these same regions when posed on other-culture faces. We also found preliminary evidence for intercultural variation including differential responses across participants to Japanese versus US Caucasian stimuli, and to a lesser degree differences in how Japanese and US Caucasian participants responded to these stimuli. These findings reveal a meaningful role of culture in the processing of eye gaze and emotion, and highlight their interactive influences in neural processing.
eye gaze; facial expression; face perception; cross-cultural psychology; amygdala
This study analyzed distributions of Euclidean displacements in gaze (i.e. “gaze steps”) to evaluate the degree of componential cognitive constraints on audio-visual speech perception tasks. Children performing these tasks exhibited distributions of gaze steps that were closest to power-law or lognormal distributions, suggesting a multiplicatively interactive, flexible, self-organizing cognitive system rather than a component-dominant stipulated cognitive structure. Younger children and children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibited distributions that were closer to power-law than lognormal, indicating a reduced degree of self-organized structure. The relative goodness of lognormal fit was also a significant predictor of ASD, suggesting that this type of analysis may point towards a promising diagnostic tool. These results lend further support to an interaction-dominant framework that casts cognitive processing and development in terms of self-organization instead of fixed components and show that these analytical methods are sensitive to important developmental and neuropsychological differences.
Interaction-dominance; Self-organization; Development; Autism; Eye movements
Event-related potentials were recorded from adults and 4-month-old infants while they watched pictures of faces that varied in emotional expression (happy and fearful) and in gaze direction (direct or averted). Results indicate that emotional expression is temporally independent of gaze direction processing at early stages of processing, and only become integrated at later latencies. Facial expressions affected the face-sensitive ERP components in both adults (N170) and infants (N290 and P400), while gaze direction and the interaction between facial expression and gaze affected the posterior channels in adults and the frontocentral channels in infants. Specifically, in adults, this interaction reflected a greater responsiveness to fearful expressions with averted gaze (avoidance-oriented emotion), and to happy faces with direct gaze (approach-oriented emotions). In infants, a larger activation to a happy expression at the frontocentral negative component (Nc) was found, and planned comparisons showed that it was due to the direct gaze condition. Taken together, these results support the shared signal hypothesis in adults, but only to a lesser extent in infants, suggesting that experience could play an important role.
ERP; facial expressions; gaze; shared signal hypothesis
During face-to-face questioning, typically developing children and adults use gaze aversion (GA), away from their questioner, when thinking. GA increases with question difficulty and improves the accuracy of responses. This is the first study to investigate whether individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; associated with reduced sociability and atypical face gaze) and Williams syndrome (WS; associated with hypersociability and atypical face gaze) use GA to manage cognitive load during face-to-face interactions.
Two studies were conducted exploring the typicality of GA during face-to-face questioning in (a) ASD and (b) WS.
In Study 1, children with ASD increased their GA as question difficulty increased. In addition, they used most GA when thinking about their responses to questions, mirroring evidence from typically developing children. An important atypicality for participants with ASD was a significantly higher level of GA when listening to interlocutors. In Study 2, participants with WS showed typical patterns of GA in relation to question difficulty and across different points of the interaction.
Two different neuro-developmental disorders, both characterized by significant problems with executive control of attention and atypicalities of social interactions, exhibited generally typical patterns of GA. All groups used most GA while thinking about questions, and increased their GA as questions got harder. In addition, children with ASD showed elevated levels of GA while listening to questions, but not while thinking about or making their responses, suggesting that they sometimes fail to see the relevance of attending to visual cues rather than actively avoiding them. Results have important implications for how professionals interpret GA in these populations and for social skills training.
Eye contact; gaze; Williams syndrome; gaze aversion; autism spectrum disorder
Gamma band oscillatory brain activity was measured to examine the neural basis of 4-month-old infants’ perception of eye gaze direction. Infants were presented with photographic images of upright and inverted female faces directing their gaze towards them or to the side. Direct gaze compared to averted gaze in upright faces elicited increased early evoked gamma activity at occipital channels indicating enhanced neural processing during the earliest steps of face encoding. Direct gaze also elicited a later induced gamma burst over right prefrontal channels, suggesting that eye contact detection might recruit very similar cortical regions as in adults. An induced gamma burst in response to averted gaze was observed over right posterior regions, which might reflect neural processes associated with shifting spatial attention. Inverted faces did not produce such effects, confirming that the gamma band oscillations observed in response to gaze direction are specific to upright faces. These data demonstrate the use of gamma band oscillations in examining the development of social perception and suggest an early specialization of brain regions known to process eye gaze.
social perception; eye gaze; development; gamma oscillations; infancy
This study used eye-tracking to examine visual attention to faces and objects in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typical peers. Point of gaze was recorded during passive viewing of images of human faces, inverted human faces, monkey faces, three-dimensional curvilinear objects, and two-dimensional geometric patterns. Individuals with ASD obtained lower scores on measures of face recognition and social-emotional functioning but exhibited similar patterns of visual attention. In individuals with ASD, face recognition performance was associated with social adaptive function. Results highlight heterogeneity in manifestation of social deficits in ASD and suggest that naturalistic assessments are important for quantifying atypicalities in visual attention.
Autism Spectrum Disorder; Asperger Syndrome; face perception; visual attention; eye-tracking; face recognition
This study used eye-tracking methodology to assess audiovisual (AV) speech perception in 26 children ranging in age from 5-15 years, half with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and half with typical development (TD). Given the characteristic reduction in gaze to the faces of others in children with ASD, it was hypothesized that they would show reduced influence of visual information on heard speech. Responses were compared on a set of auditory, visual and audiovisual speech perception tasks. Even when fixated on the face of the speaker, children with ASD were less visually influenced than TD controls. This indicates fundamental differences in the processing of AV speech in children with ASD, which may contribute to their language and communication impairments.