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Kathleen W. Smith, Laurence R. Harris, Jennifer K.E. Steeves; Strategy for visual scanning of faces varies with the degree of Asperger Syndrome traits. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):709. doi: 10.1167/8.6.709.
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People with Asperger syndrome (AS) have difficulty identifying complex emotions (e.g., ‘wary’) that involve theory of mind but can identify basic emotions (e.g., ‘happy’) (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 J.Child Psychol. Psychiat. 42: 241). They look less at the eye region of faces than controls do when discriminating basic emotions but not when viewing faces passively (Pelphrey et al., 2002 J. Autism Dev. Dis. 32:249). Does scan path strategy vary with AS severity? Is there a difference between how people with and without AS scan faces while identifying complex versus simple emotions? Eye movements were measured using an Eyelink 1000 while people with AS and controls viewed faces showing simple or complex emotions. Severity of AS was assessed using the Autism-Spectrum Quotient questionnaire (AQ: Baron-Cohen et al., 2001 J. Autism Dev. Dis. 31: 5). Participants viewed a fixation cross followed by a face which was surrounded, after 5s, by four words from which they selected the emotional expression. Scan paths were analysed in terms of the goal and latency of first saccade to the face, and the dwell times in different face regions during the face-viewing period. The frequency of people looking first at the nose, the dwell time in the nose region, and the dwell time on features in the lower part of the face in general, correlated with AQ. The frequency of looking first at the eyes, the dwell time in the eye regions, and dwell time on the upper part of the face were inversely correlated with AQ. There was no difference in scan paths when identifying simple vs. complex emotions. These data support the view that there is a continuum of AS tendencies extending into the so-called normal population that is reflected in scan path strategy.
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