Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 584–592 | Cite as

Visual Attention to Competing Social and Object Images by Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Original Paper


Eye tracking studies of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) report a reduction in social attention and an increase in visual attention to non-social stimuli, including objects related to circumscribed interests (CI) (e.g., trains). In the current study, fifteen preschoolers with ASD and 15 typically developing controls matched on gender and age (range 24–62 months) were eye tracked while viewing a paired preference task of face and object stimuli. While co-varying verbal and nonverbal developmental quotients, preschoolers with ASD were similar to controls in their visual attention to faces presented with objects unrelated to CI, but attended significantly less than controls to faces presented with CI-related objects. This was consistent across three metrics: preference, prioritization and duration. Social attention in preschoolers with ASD therefore appears modulated by salience of competing non-social stimuli, which may affect the development of both social and non-social characteristics of the disorder.


Autism Social attention Eye-tracking Face processing Circumscribed interests Restricted interests 



The authors wish to thank Thomas Campbell and Christine Dollaghan for generously sharing their lab space, and Suzanne Bonifert, Jamie Cato, Hillary Carrington and Lark Huang-Storms for their assistance with recruitment and clinical evaluations. We also extend our gratitude to all participating children and their families. This research was supported by Grant Number UL1RR024982, titled, “North and Central Texas Clinical and Translational Science Initiative” (Milton Packer, M.D., PI) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, and its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of the NCRR or NIH. Information on NCRR is available at Information on Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise can be obtained from

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences—GR41The University of Texas at DallasRichardsonUSA

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