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Jason Griffin, K. Suzanne Scherf; Reduced sensitivity to static and dynamic eye gaze cues in adolescents with autism. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):923. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.923.
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Hallmark features of autism include atypical eye contact and visual attention to faces. These atypicalities have been quantified using eye tracking in high-risk infants and individuals diagnosed with autism. However, what is less clear is whether and how these atypicalities have functional consequences for behavior. In this project, we investigated the possibility that even subtle impairments in the ability to detect gaze trajectories interfere with the ability to understand the potential intentions of an actor. We designed two tasks to gauge participants' sensitivity to eye gaze trajectory. In both tasks, an actor was surrounded by many objects and directed their gaze to a single object. In the static version of the task, this information was presented to participants within a photograph. In the dynamic version of the task, a woman was filmed looking at the camera, then saccading to the target gazed-at object, and looking back at the camera. In both tasks, participants had to pick the target gazed-at object from a list of 4 labels, which also included the labels for the nearby plausible non-target and two non-plausible objects. In order to perform the task successfully, participants had to precisely compute the gaze trajectory information to identify the gazed-at object and rule out the plausible non-target object. We tested adolescents with autism and age- and IQ-matched typically developing (TD) adolescents in both tasks. We also collected eye tracking data. Indeed, the adolescents with autism exhibited worse performance (by more than 10%) than the TD adolescents on both tasks, with an emerging pattern of more severe deficits on the dynamic task. Our findings suggest that this reduced sensitivity to detect and compute eye gaze trajectories in adolescents with autism may interfere with the ability to understanding and/or anticipate how a person intends to act on the world of objects.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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