Atypical Disengagement from Faces and Its Modulation by the Control of Eye Fixation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Yukiko KikuchiEmail author
  • Atsushi Senju
  • Hironori Akechi
  • Yoshikuni Tojo
  • Hiroo Osanai
  • Toshikazu Hasegawa
Original Paper


By using the gap overlap task, we investigated disengagement from faces and objects in children (9–17 years old) with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and its neurophysiological correlates. In typically developing (TD) children, faces elicited larger gap effect, an index of attentional engagement, and larger saccade-related event-related potentials (ERPs), compared to objects. In children with ASD, by contrast, neither gap effect nor ERPs differ between faces and objects. Follow-up experiments demonstrated that instructed fixation on the eyes induces larger gap effect for faces in children with ASD, whereas instructed fixation on the mouth can disrupt larger gap effect in TD children. These results suggest a critical role of eye fixation on attentional engagement to faces in both groups.


Autism spectrum disorder Face Disengagement Saccade-related ERPs Gap overlap task 



We would like to acknowledge all the children, their parents and the teachers of Musashino Higashi Gakuen. We thank all of the staffs for their assistance in data collection and thank Monika Kiss for providing house stimuli, Katarzyna Chawarska and Gergely Csibra for comments on earlier version of drafts, Rie Fukumoto and all other members of Hasegawa Lab for their supports in testing. This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS): Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (199041), JSPS: the 21st Century COE Program J05 “Center for Evolutionary Cognitive Sciences at the University of Tokyo” and JSPS: Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B; 21330166) and (B; 19330210). AS was also supported by the ESRC Research Fellowship (RES-063-27-0207).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yukiko Kikuchi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Atsushi Senju
    • 2
  • Hironori Akechi
    • 1
  • Yoshikuni Tojo
    • 3
  • Hiroo Osanai
    • 4
  • Toshikazu Hasegawa
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and SciencesUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Education for Children with DisabilitiesIbaragi UniversityIbarakiJapan
  4. 4.Musashino Higashi Center for Education and ResearchMusashino Higashi GakuenTokyoJapan

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