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High autistic trait individuals do not modulate gaze behaviour in response to social presence but look away more when actively engaged in an interaction

von dem Hagen, Elisabeth A. H. and Bright, Naomi 2017. High autistic trait individuals do not modulate gaze behaviour in response to social presence but look away more when actively engaged in an interaction. Autism Research 10 (2) , pp. 359-368. 10.1002/aur.1666

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Abstract

Autism is characterised by difficulties in social functioning, notably in interactions with other people. Yet, most studies addressing social difficulties have used static images or, at best, videos of social stimuli, with no scope for real interaction. Here, we study one crucial aspect of social interactions—gaze behaviour—in an interactive setting. First, typical individuals were shown videos of an experimenter and, by means of a deception procedure, were either led to believe that the experimenter was present via a live video-feed or was pre-recorded. Participants' eye movements revealed that when passively viewing an experimenter they believed to be “live,” they looked less at that person than when they believed the experimenter video was pre-recorded. Interestingly, this reduction in viewing behaviour in response to the believed “live” presence of the experimenter was absent in individuals high in autistic traits, suggesting a relative insensitivity to social presence alone. When participants were asked to actively engage in a real-time interaction with the experimenter, however, high autistic trait individuals looked significantly less at the experimenter relative to low autistic trait individuals. The results reinforce findings of atypical gaze behaviour in individuals high in autistic traits, but suggest that active engagement in a social interaction may be important in eliciting reduced looking. We propose that difficulties with the spatio-temporal dynamics associated with real social interactions rather than underlying difficulties processing the social stimulus itself may drive these effects. The results underline the importance of developing ecologically valid methods to investigate social cognition.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords: autism spectrum; •social interaction; •eye gaze; •faces; •theory-of-mind
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1939-3792
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 July 2016
Date of Acceptance: 13 June 2016
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2020 15:30
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/92405

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