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Atypical monitoring and responsiveness to goal-directed gaze in autism spectrum disorder

Abstract

We hypothesized that difficulty in understanding the goals of others’ actions in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might be linked to a diminished attention and responsivity to relevant social cues. Using an eye-tracking paradigm, we investigated how 24 children with ASD and 24 matched children without ASD responded to the observation of uncompleted actions without a clear target (neutral condition) versus a condition in which the actor’s gaze direction indicated the target of the actions (head-turning condition). Children without ASD significantly increased their attention to the actor’s face and to the action’s target in the head-turning condition compared to the neutral condition, while this was not the case in the ASD group. Overall, our findings suggest a diminished monitoring and responsivity to social cues signalling goal-directedness, which might impact on the ability to understand other’s action goals in young children with ASD.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the children and parents involved in the study,  the ASELCC Team who worked with our ASD sample, and the Kalparrin Early Intervention Centre staff. We would also like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Cherie Green, Heather Nuske, Nicole Young, Carmela Germano and Caterina Suares.

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Correspondence to Giacomo Vivanti.

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Vivanti, G., Trembath, D. & Dissanayake, C. Atypical monitoring and responsiveness to goal-directed gaze in autism spectrum disorder. Exp Brain Res 232, 695–701 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-013-3777-9

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Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Action prediction
  • Goal understanding
  • Eye-tracking
  • Eye movements