Effects of Observing Eye Contact on Gaze Following in High-Functioning Autism
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Observing eye contact between others enhances the tendency to subsequently follow their gaze and has been suggested to function as a social signal that adds meaning to an upcoming action or event. The present study investigated effects of observed eye contact in high-functioning autism (HFA). Two faces on a screen either looked at or away from each other before providing congruent or incongruent gaze cues to one of two target locations. In contrast to control participants, HFA participants did not depict enhanced gaze following after observing eye contact. Individuals with autism, hence, do not seem to process observed mutual gaze as a social signal indicating the relevance of upcoming (gaze) behaviour. This may be based on the reduced tendency of individuals with HFA to engage in social gaze behavior themselves, and might underlie some of the characteristic deficiencies in social communicative behaviour in autism.
KeywordsGaze following Joint attention Social cognition High-functioning autism
This research was supported by grants from the Volkswagen Foundation (K.V., L.S.), the Köln Fortune Program of the Medical Faculty at the University of Cologne (L.S.) and the European Science Foundation (A.B., N.S.). We thank Tabea van der Lühe for her assistance with recruitment and testing of the participants with HFA in Cologne and for her help with data administration. We are very thankful to Anne Blankenhorn for her help with recruiting and testing the control participants in Nijmegen and for analyzing and administrating the questionnaires.
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