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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01799

Gaze following and attention to objects in infants at familial risk for ASD

  • 1Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Science, Birkbeck University of London, United Kingdom
  • 2Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London, United Kingdom
  • 3University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 4University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

Reduced gaze following has been previously associated with lower language scores in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here we use eye-tracking to investigate whether attention distribution during a word learning task requiring gaze following associates with later developmental and clinical outcomes, in a population of infants at familial risk for ASD. Fifteen-month-old infants (n = 124; n = 101 with familial risk) watched an actress repeatedly gaze towards and label one of two objects present in front of her. We show that infants who later developed ASD followed gaze as frequently as typically developing peers but tended to spend less time engaged with either object. Moreover, more time spent on faces and less on objects was associated with lower concurrent and later verbal and non-verbal abilities, in the whole group and in the high-risk group only. None of the groups showed evidence for word learning. Thus, reduced engagement with objects rather than poor gaze following, associates with poorer language and also more broadly with developmental level in this population.

Keywords: gaze following, infants, ASD, Familial risk, Eye-tracking

Received: 12 Feb 2019; Accepted: 19 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Jo Van Herwegen, Kingston University, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Carmel Houston-Price, University of Reading, United Kingdom
Rechele Brooks, University of Washington, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Parsons, Bedford, Jones, Charman, Johnson and Gliga. 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:
Prof. Emily J. Jones, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Science, Birkbeck University of London, London, WC1E 7HX, England, United Kingdom, e.jones@bbk.ac.uk
Dr. Teodora Gliga, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, United Kingdom, ubjtd87@mail.bbk.ac.uk