Eye Tracking Effort Expenditure and Autonomic Arousal to Social and Circumscribed Interest Stimuli in Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • J. M. Traynor
  • A. Gough
  • E. Duku
  • D. I. Shore
  • G. B. C. HallEmail author
Original Paper


The social communicative deficits and repetitive behaviours seen in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be affected by altered stimulus salience and reward attribution. The present study used eye tracking and a behavioural measure to index effort expenditure, arousal, and attention, during viewing of images depicting social scenes and subject-specific circumscribed interests in a group of 10 adults with ASD (mean age 25.4 years) and 19 typically-developing controls (mean age 20.7 years) Split-plot and one-way repeated measures ANOVAs were used to explore results. A significant difference between the ASD and control group was found in the amount of effort expended to view social and circumscribed images. The ASD group also displayed significant differences in pupillary response to social and circumscribed images, indicative of changes in autonomic arousal. Overall, the results support the social motivation hypothesis in ASD (Chevallier et al., Trends Cogn Sci 16(4):231–239, 2012) and suggest a role for autonomic arousal in the ASD symptom dyad.


Autism spectrum disorder Repetitive behaviours Circumscribed interests Social communication deficits Eye tracking Pupillometry 


Author Contributions

JMT, AH, and GBCH conceptualized the study. JMT wrote and submitted the ethics application, recruited participants, collected and analyzed the data, and drafted the manuscript. AH programmed the experiment, trained experimenters to use the Eye Link II system, developed testing protocols, and edited revisions of the manuscript. ED provided statistical consultation. DIS and GBCH edited revisions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Ethics Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2018_3877_MOESM1_ESM.docx (142 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 141 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  • J. M. Traynor
    • 1
  • A. Gough
    • 1
    • 4
  • E. Duku
    • 2
  • D. I. Shore
    • 1
  • G. B. C. Hall
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcMaster University, Neuroscience & BehaviourHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural NeurosciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.SR Research LtdOttawaCanada

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