Face-to-face interactions and the use of gaze in autism spectrum disorders

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Ross, Alasdair Iain
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University College Cork
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Study 1, Abstract - Background: Previous findings from computer-based stimuli have indicated a reduced number of fixations towards the eyes, in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This has been thought to contribute to wider social and emotional difficulties. However, it is unclear whether the reported deficits in gaze can be generalised to real-world interactions. Method: A systematic review was conducted on studies that explored the use of gaze during face-to-face interactions with individuals who have ASD. The search covered the EBSCO, Scopus and Web of Science databases. In total fourteen studies were included: ten contained participants who were children and adolescents, and four studies contained adult participants. Results: The majority of studies found little or no overall difference between ASD and comparison groups in the amount of gaze directed towards an interaction partner’s face. Only one of the included studies found a significantly reduced preference for fixations towards the eyes as compared to other areas of the face. Nevertheless, neuro-typical (NT) participants were found to consistently increase fixation duration towards an interaction partner whilst listening as compared to speaking, such consistency was not found for participants with ASD. Conclusion: The results were discussed in relation to current hypotheses regarding the use of gaze in ASD (e.g. gaze aversion, a lack of automatic motivational process, low social motivation) and whether the lack of group differences was driven by individual differences. Recommendations for future studies are proposed. Study 2, Abstract - Social and emotional difficulties in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been linked to differences in the use of social attention as compared to neurotypical (NT) individuals. Much of the evidence for this assertion has stemmed from studies that have used two-dimensional stimuli and eye-tracking (e.g. static images of faces, videos of social scenes). To date, a small number of studies have attempted to investigate the use of gaze by ASD and NT individuals during face-to-face interactions. Using eye-tracking with ten ASD participants and ten NT participants, this study investigated how eye contact was used during a conversation that covered three topics (holidays, preferred mode of transport, and hobbies). In line with recent findings we found that both groups adjusted their total proportion of fixation duration on the eyes depending on whether they were speaking or listening during the interaction. However, the ASD group were found to have an overall lower total fixation duration, made fewer fixations towards the eyes, but were more consistent in their time to make a first fixation on the eyes as compared to the NT group. This study provides a snapshot of how social attention and eye contact is utilised by adults with ASD, offering a number of new avenues for future investigation.
Autsim , ASD , Eye-tracking , Social interaction , Face-to-face , Eye contact , Gaze
Ross, A. I. 2020. Face-to-face interactions and the use of gaze in autism spectrum disorders. DClinPsych Thesis, University College Cork.