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Eye-movements reveal attention to social information in autism spectrum disorder

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    Rights statement: NOTICE: this is the author's version of a work that was accepted for publication in Neuropsychologia. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Neuropsychologia, 47, 1, 2009, 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.07.016 Fletcher-Watson, S., Leekham, S. R., Benson, V., Frank, M. C., & Findlay, J. M. (2009).Eye-movements reveal attention to social information in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 47(1), 248-247.

    Accepted author manuscript, 542 KB, PDF document

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-257
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jul 2008
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition in which children show reduced attention to social aspects of the environment. However in adults with ASD, evidence for social attentional deficits is equivocal. One problem is that many paradigms present social information in an unrealistic, isolated way. This study presented adults and adolescents, with and without ASD, with a complex social scene alongside another, non-social scene, and measured eye-movements during a 3-s viewing period. Analyses
first identified viewing time to different regions and then investigated some more complex issues. These were: the location of the very first fixation in a trial (indicating attentional priority); the effect of a task instruction on scan paths; the extent to which gaze-following was evident; and the degree to which
participants’ scan paths were influenced by the low-level properties of a scene. Results indicate a superficially normal attentional preference for social information in adults with ASD. However, more sensitive measures show that ASD does entail social attention problems across the lifespan, supporting accounts of the disorder which emphasise lifelong neurodevelopmental atypicalities. These subtle abnormalities may be sufficient to produce serious difficulties in real-life scenarios.

    Research areas

  • Eye-tracking , Social attention, Scene viewing, Preferential-looking, Perception

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