Distinguishing Gaze Aversion and Gaze Indifference in Two-Year-Olds with Autism Open Access

Moriuchi, Jennifer Michelle (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/qb98mf55t?locale=en


Because atypical eye contact is one of the most prominent symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), identifying the underlying social-cognitive mechanism that accounts for atypical eye contact is key for understanding the neural etiology of ASD. Two hypotheses, each associated with a specific neural model, have been proposed: the gaze aversion account suggests that children with ASD actively avoid the eyes, whereas the gaze indifference account suggests that children with ASD are insensitive to the social cues conveyed by the eyes. To differentiate between these accounts, eye-tracking measures of visual attention were obtained from two-year- olds with autism and typically-developing peers during free-viewing of videos of approaching caregivers. Gaze patterns were examined in response to both physical priming and social cuing for eyes fixation. Across all analyses, results failed to provide evidence of gaze aversion and instead supported the gaze indifference account. These findings indicate that toddlers with ASD passively omit eye contact due to a broader insensitivity to social salience and provide guidance for future neural modeling of the disorder.

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