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Alma Gharib, Ralph Adolphs, Shinsuke Shimojo; "Don't Look": Faces with Eyes Open Influence Visual Behavior in Neurotypicals but not in Individuals with High-Functioning Autism . Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):681. doi: 10.1167/14.10.681.
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In tasks examining gaze orientation when viewing faces, open eyes are fixated upon longer than other face regions. High-functioning individuals with Autism (ASD) show inattention to faces and impaired orienting to eyes. In this study, we examined whether impaired orienting in ASD is from avoidance of the eye region or a weaker orienting bias towards open eyes. 13 ASD subjects and 13 healthy controls (HC) group-matched for age and gender viewed Facegen faces while eye-gaze was tracked. Half of the images depicted open eyes (EO) and half depicted closed eyes (EC). Images were presented in three blocks with instructions to 1) view freely 2) avoid the eyes or 3) avoid the mouth. Only controls showed differences in visual behavior for open versus closed eyes. In the "Free-view" condition, within-group comparison showed controls increased their gaze to mouth (p<0.05) and decreased gaze to eyes (p<0.05) for EC over EO, whereas for ASD, gaze to the ROIs stayed the same when viewing both stimulus types. In the "No Eyes" condition, a within-group comparison between stimulus types again showed the ASD group's gaze to ROIs did not change for EO versus EC, whereas controls spent more time on non-face screen regions with EO versus EC (p<0.05), perhaps a strategy to counteract the saliency of open eyes. The ASD group spent similar proportions of time on the eyes as controls in all conditions, indicating there is indeed a tendency to orient to the eye region in the ASD group. For controls however, eyes open versus closed elicited significant changes in gaze behavior, while there was little influence of eyes open versus closed on the ASD group's visual behavior in this sample set, suggesting ASD shows a relative indifference to open eyes versus closed rather than an overall avoidance of eye regions.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
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