Brief Report: Eye-Movement Patterns During an Embedded Figures Test in Children with ASD


The present study examined fixation frequency and duration during an Embedded Figures Test (EFT) in an effort to better understand the attentional and perceptual processes by which individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) achieve accelerated EFT performance. In particular, we aimed to elucidate differences in the patterns of eye-movement in ASD and typically developing (TD) children, thus providing evidence relevant to the competing theories of weak central coherence (WCC) and enhanced perceptual functioning. Consistent with prior EFT studies, we found accelerated response time (RT) in children with ASD. No group differences were seen for fixation frequency, but the ASD group made significantly shorter fixations compared to the TD group. Eye-movement results indicate that RT advantage in ASD is related to both WCC and enhanced perceptual functioning.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC.

  2. Dakin, S., & Frith, U. (2005). Vagaries of visual perception in autism. Neuron, 48(3), 497–507. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2005.10.018.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Happé, F., & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 5–25. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0039-0.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Jarrold, C., Gilchrist, I. D., & Bender, A. (2005). Embedded figures detection in autism and typical development: Preliminary evidence of a double dissociation in relationships with visual search. Developmental Science, 8(4), 344–351. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2005.00422.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Kemner, C., van Ewijk, L., van Engeland, H., & Hooge, I. (2007). Brief report: Eye movements during visual search tasks indicate enhanced stimulus discriminability in subjects with PDD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(3), 553–557.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Kramer, A. F., de Sather, J. C., & Cassavaugh, N. D. (2005). Development of attentional and oculomotor control. Developmental Psychology, 41(5), 760–772. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.41.5.760.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Lee, P. S., Foss-Feig, J., Henderson, J. G., Kenworthy, L. E., Gilotty, L., Gaillard, W. D., et al. (2007). Atypical neural substrates of embedded figures task performance in children with autism spectrum disorder. NeuroImage, 38(1), 184–193. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.07.013.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lord, C., Rutter, M., DiLavore, P.C., & Risi, S. (1999). Autism diagnostic observation schedule-WPS (ADOS-WPS). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

  9. Manjaly, Z. M., Bruning, N., Neufang, S., Stephan, K. E., Brieber, S., Marshall, J. C., et al. (2007). Neurophysiological correlates of relatively enhanced local visual search in autistic adolescents. NeuroImage, 35(1), 283–291. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.11.036.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Mottron, L., Dawson, M., Soulieres, I., Hubert, B., & Burack, J. (2006). Enhanced perceptual functioning in autism: An update, and eight principles of autistic perception. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 27–43. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0040-7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Ring, H. A., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Williams, S. C., Brammer, M., Andrew, C., et al. (1999). Cerebral correlates of preserved cognitive skills in autism: A functional MRI study of embedded figures task performance. Brain, 122(Pt 7), 1305–1315. doi:10.1093/brain/122.7.1305.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Rutter, M., Le Couteur, A., & Lord, C. (2003). Autism diagnostic interview—revised. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

  13. Wechsler, D. (2000). Wechsler’s abbreviated scale of intelligence. San Antonio, Texas: The Psychological Corporation.

  14. Witkin, H. A., Oltman, P. K., Raskin, E., & Karp, S. A. (1971). Manual embedded figures test, children’s embedded figures test, group embedded figures test. Consulting Psychologists Press.

Download references


The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, R01-DC006155, with additional funding from 1T32 DC007361-03 (BK) and NIGMS SDSU MBRS Program 5R25GN58906 (AIR). Special thanks to Natacha Akshoomoff for help in the recruitment of ASD participants, Sylvia Knust for help with data collection, and especially the children and families who generously participated.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ralph-Axel Müller.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Keehn, B., Brenner, L.A., Ramos, A.I. et al. Brief Report: Eye-Movement Patterns During an Embedded Figures Test in Children with ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 39, 383–387 (2009).

Download citation


  • Autism
  • Reaction time
  • Visual attention
  • Visual perception
  • Eye movement
  • Eye fixation