Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 9, pp 1761–1775 | Cite as

The Problem with Using Eye-Gaze to Infer Desire: A Deficit of Cue Inference in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Original Paper


Children with autism respond atypically to eye-gaze cues, arguably because they fail to understand that eye-gaze conveys mentalistic information. Three experiments investigated whether a difficulty in inferring desire from eye-gaze in autism reflects a failure to understand the mentalistic significance of eye-gaze, an inhibitory deficit or a deficit of cue inference. While there was an inhibitory component to the tasks, children with autism were no more affected by this than controls. In addition, individuals’ impairment in inferring desire was not limited to social cues, but was also observed when desire was cued by more general cues. Consequently, children with autism may have a general deficit in using arbitrary cues to make inferences, which impacts particularly on their social development.


Autism spectrum disorder Desire inference Eye-gaze Arrow Cue inference 



We are grateful to Sefton Park Infant Junior School, Fosse Way School and Florence Brown Community School for their help and cooperation with this research. This work was supported by a Ph.D. studentship from the Medical Research Council of the UK (G78/8079).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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