Eye gaze during semi-naturalistic face-to-face Interactions in autism

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Ross, Alasdair Iain
Chan, Jason S.
Ryan, Christian
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Objectives: Reduced eye contact is common in autistic people and has frequently been investigated using two-dimensional stimuli with eye-tracking technology. Only a few studies have investigated the use of gaze in autistic individuals during real-world interactions. The current study explored how autistic adults engage in eye contact during real-life interpersonal interactions. Methods: Twenty participants (autistic n = 10, neurotypical n = 10) were recruited to participate in a semi-naturalistic, face-to-face, in-person conversation while wearing unobtrusive, lightweight, eye-tracking glasses. Participants also completed measures of emotion recognition, empathy and alexithymia. Results: The results of this study were consistent with the autobiographical accounts of autistic adults, who report reduced eye contact in social situations. The autistic group had a lower overall gaze duration and made fewer fixations towards the eyes and face than the control group. Both autistic and control groups adjusted their mean gaze duration on the eyes and face, depending on whether they were speaking or listening during the interaction. Conclusions: Importantly, some measures of eye fixation are significant predictors of both autistic symptoms and emotion recognition ability. The study highlights the subtlety of eye gaze differences in autistic people and the importance of accounting for the conversational phase in this area of research. It also highlights the potential relationship between eye gaze and emotion recognition ability
Eye-tracking , Autism , Social attention , Eye gaze , Naturalistic
Ross, A.I., Chan, J. and Ryan, C. (2023) ‘Eye gaze during semi-naturalistic face-to-face interactions in autism’, Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (13 pp). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s41252-023-00378-7
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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023