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Peter Pantelis, Daniel Kennedy; Atypical eye gaze perception in autism spectrum disorder arises from heterogeneous perceptual mechanisms. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1257. doi: 10.1167/16.12.1257.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty judging where other people are looking. Gaze perception involves the integration of social cues (e.g., from the eyes of the other person) with contextual cues (e.g., the relative visual salience of locations in the shared environment). To investigate how these cues are processed and integrated, we recently developed and modeled an experimental task in which subjects judge the target of another person's gaze as this "gazer" fixates on various locations within a semi-transparent 2-dimensional surface (Pantelis & Kennedy, 2015). Here, we employ the same methodology to investigate whether and how individuals with ASD perform this gaze perception task atypically. Twenty-two adults with ASD (and 23 controls) judged where the gazer was looking within naturalistic photographs projected onto the gazed-upon surface. We derived an estimate of the extent to which each individual subject was influenced by salient features of the projected image when judging the target of gaze. For approximately half of ASD subjects, this contextual influence was atypically weak; performance among these individuals was heterogeneous in this respect. Over 660 additional trials, subjects judged where the gazer was looking within a uniform gray surface (i.e. with no projected photograph), a task involving the processing of the basic social cue absent informative context. Control subjects' judgments exhibited a bias toward a distinctive "butterfly" pattern of spatial clustering. About half of ASD subjects also tended toward this prototypical spatial bias; the other half produced idiosyncratic spatial patterns. We conclude that in typical development, eye gaze perception is informed by both context (i.e. relative visual salience) and prototypical spatial biases, but that most individuals with ASD (70-80% of those in our sample) exhibit disruption to one or both of these perceptual mechanisms. The underlying basis of atypical eye gaze perception in ASD is likely heterogeneous.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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