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Diana Mihalache, Michelle Salvador, Sophia Silver, Mohammad Mahoor, Tim Sweeny; Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders rely on head rotation to perceive gaze direction . Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):485. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/16.12.485.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
For typical adults, gaze perception is an emergent process that relies on integrating information from both head and pupil rotations. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are well known for their general deficits in global and holistic processing as well as specific impairments in perceiving eye gaze. Yet surprisingly, it is unclear how children with ASD perceive gaze when it is conveyed globally, via the combination of head and eye rotations. The current study bridges this gap. Here, children and adults viewed heads with leftward, rightward, or direct rotations in conjunction with leftward or rightward pupil rotations, and then indicated whether the face was looking leftward or rightward. We predicted that children with ASD (N=18) would rely primarily on head rotation to determine where a person is looking, whereas age-matched (M=10.14, SD=2.84) typically-developing children (TD) would integrate information from both pupil and head rotations. Indeed, children with ASD based gaze direction judgments primarily on information from head rotation, whereas surprisingly, TD children tended to utilize information from either head or pupil rotation. While both groups of children engaged a part-based analysis, favoring one feature over the other, typical adults tended to perceive gaze globally, integrating head and pupil rotations equivalently. Our findings suggest that the emergent perception of gaze direction develops gradually, even among typically developing children, and that TD children and those with ASD tend to use different facial information to determine where a person is looking. Importantly, despite general deficits in gaze perception, children with ASD are nonetheless able to rely on information from head rotation to inform judgments of gaze direction. These findings, therefore, are critical to understanding basic mechanisms of gaze perception as well as complex behaviors like joint attention and social communication among children with ASD.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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