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Typical and Atypical Processing of Gaze

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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02629

An Investigation of Attention to Faces and Eyes: Looking Time Is Task-Dependent in Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • 1University of Trento, Italy

A defective attention to faces and eyes characterizes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) however the role of contingent information - such as the task instructions - remains still unclear. Our study aimed to investigate the face-orienting response and the subsequent attentive selection in the presence of varying task instructions in individuals with atypical and typical development. 20 young adults with ASD and 24 young adults with typical development participated in our eye-tracking study. The participants received one of three different instructions at the beginning of each trial and watched scenes of a social interaction. The instructions asked either to find an object (visual-search, VS), to identify which actor was paying attention to the conversation (gaze-reading, GR), or to simply watch the video (free-viewing, FV). We found that the groups did not differ in terms of proportion of first fixations to the face. Nonetheless, average looking time and proportional looking time to faces differed across groups. Furthermore, proportional looking time to faces was task-dependent in the ASD group only, with maximum proportion in the GR and minimum in the VS condition. This result cannot be explained by a lack of an initial bias to orient to the face, since the face-orienting tendency was similar in the ASD and the control group.

Keywords: Autism Spectrum Disoder, social gaze, Eye-tracking, Attention, Atypical Development

Received: 19 Jul 2018; Accepted: 06 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

Chris Ashwin, University of Bath, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Jessica Royer, Montreal Neurological Institute, Mcgill University, Canada
Zoë C. Freeman, University of Bath, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Del Bianco, Mazzoni, Bentenuto and Venuti. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Teresa Del Bianco, University of Trento, Trento, Italy, teresa.delbi@gmail.com