The purpose of this study was to understand the social referencing behaviors of children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while visually attending to a videogame stimulus depicting both the face of the videogame player and the videogame play action. Videogames appear to offer a uniquely well-suited environment for the emergence of friendships, but it is not known if children with and without ASD attend to and play videogames similarly. Eyetracking technology was used to investigate visual attention of participants matched based on chronological age. Parametric and nonparametric statistical analyses were used and results indicated the groups did not differ on percentage of time spent visually attending to any of the areas of interest, with one possible exception.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edn.). Washington, DC: Laura Carpenter.
Ames, C. & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2010). A review of methods in the study of attention in autism. Developmental Review, 30, 52–73.
Bauminger, N., & Kasari, C. (2000). Loneliness and friendship in high-functioning children with autism. Child Development, 71, 447s–456s.
Bauminger, N., & Shulman, C. (2003). The development and maintenance of friendship in high-functioning children with autism: Maternal perceptions. Autism, 7, 81–97.
Chawarska, K., Macari, S. & Shic, F. (2012). Context modulates attention to social scenes in toddlers with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Allied Disciplines, 53, 903–913.
Chawarska, K., Macari, S. & Shic, F. (2013). Decreased spontaneous attention to social scenes in 6-month old infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 74, 195–203.
Dawson, G., Webb, S. J. & McPartland, J. (2005). Understanding the nature of face processing impairment in autism: Insights from behavioral and electrophysiological studies. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27, 403–424.
Dunn Lloyd, M., Dunn Douglas, M. (2007). PPVT-4: Peabody picture vocabulary test. Minneapolis: Pearson Assessments.
Entertainment Software Association (2015). Essential facts. http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ESA-Essential-Facts-2015.pdf.
Finke, E. H. (2016). Friendship is “magic”: Operationalizing the intangible to improve friendship-based outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. (in press)
Finke, E. H., Hickerson, B. & McLaughlin, E. (2015). Parental intention to support video game play by children with autism spectrum disorder: An application of the theory of planned behavior. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, 154–165.
Fletcher-Watson, S., Leekam, S. R., Benson, V. & Findlay, J. M. (2009). Eye-movements reveal attention to social information in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 47, 248–257.
Gillespie-Smith, K. & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2014). Designing AAC systems for children autism: Evidence from eye tracking research. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 20, 160–171.
Guillon, Q., Hadjikhani, N., Baduel, S., & Roge, B. (2014). Visual social attention in autism spectrum disorder: Insights from eye tracking studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 42, 279–297.
Happe, F. & Frith, U. (2006). The weak coherence account: Detail-focused cognitive style in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 5s–25s.
Klin, A., Lin, D., Gorrindo, P., Ramsay, G. & Jones, W. (2009). Two-year olds with autism orient to non-social contingencies rather than biological motion. Nature, 459, 257–261.
Kuo, M. H., Orsmond, G. L., Cohn, E. S., & Coster, W. J. (2013). Friendship characteristics and activity patterns of adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 17, 481–500.
Lenhart, A., Smith, A., Anderson, M., Duggen M., & Perrin, A. (2015). Teens, technology, and friendships: Video games, social media, and mobile phones play an integral role in how teens meet and interact with friends. Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Mazurek, M. O., & Wenstrup, C. (2013). Television, video game and social media use among children with ASD and typically developing siblings. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(6), 1258–1271.
McConnell, S. R. (2002). Interventions to facilitate social interaction for young children with autism: Review of available research and recommendations for educational intervention and future research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 351–372.
Muller, E., Schuler, A. & Yates, G. B. (2009). Social challenges and supports from the perspective of individuals with Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disabilities. Autism, 12, 173–190.
Nakano, T., Tanaka, K., Endo, Y., Yamane, Y., Yamamoto, T., Nakano, Y., Ohta, H., Kato, N. & Kitazawa, S. (2010). Atypical gaze patterns in children and adults with autism spectrum disorders dissociated from developmental changes in gaze behavior. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0587.
Newcomb, A. F. & Bagwell, C. L. (1995). Children’s friendship relations: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 306–347.
Odom, S. L., McConnell, S. R. & Chandler, L. K. (1994). Acceptability and feasibility of classroom-based social interaction interventions for young children with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 60, 236–237.
Olson, C. K. (2010). Children’s motivations for video game play in the context of normal development. Review of General Psychology, 14, 180–187.
Orsmond, G. I., Krauss, M. W., & Seltzer, M. M. (2004). Peer relationships and social and recreational activities among adolescents and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 245–256.
Parker, J. G. & Gottman, J. M. (1989). Social and emotional development in a relational context: Friendship interaction from early childhood to adolescence. In T.J. Berndt & G.W. Ladd (Eds.), Peer Relationships in Child Development. Oxford: Wiley.
Petrina, N., Carter, M., & Stephenson, J. (2014). The nature of friendship in children with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8, 111–126.
Rao, P., Beidel, D., & Murray, M. (2008). Social skills interventions for children with Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism: A review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 38, 353–361.
Riby, D. M. & Hancock, P. J. B. (2009). Do faces capture the attention of individuals with Williams Syndrome or autism? Evidence from tracking eye movements. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 421–431.
Rowley, E., Chandler, S., Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Loucas, T., et al. (2012). The experience of friendship, victimization and bullying in children with an autism spectrum disorder: Associations with child characteristics and school placement. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1126–1134.
Sasson, N. J. (2006). The development of face processing in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 381–394.
Sasson, N. J., Elison, J. T., Turner-Brown, L. M., Dichter, G. S. & Bodfish, J. W. (2011). Brief report: Circumscribed attention in young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 242–247.
Solish, A., Perry, A., & Minnes, P. (2010). Participation of children with and without disabilities in social, recreational and leisure activities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23, 226–236.
Sasson, N. J. & Touchstone, E. W. (2014). Visual attention to competing social and object images by preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 584–592.
White, S., Koenig, K., & Scahill, L. (2007). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1858–1868.
Wilkinson, K. M., & Light, J. (2014). Preliminary study of gaze toward humans in photographs by individuals with autism, Down syndrome, or other intellectual disability: Implications for design of visual scene displays. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 130–146.
Wilkinson, K. M. & Mitchell, T. (2014). Eye tracking research to answer questions about augmentative and alternative communication assessment and intervention. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30, 106–119.
We would like to thank the children who participated in our study, as well as the Vista School who assisted with participant recruitment, and provided space for data collection. We would also like to thank the individuals who contributed significantly to stimulus development, data coding, and data management: Christine Regiec, Shannon McNellis, Emily Neumann, and Brandon Ly.
Finke: material/stimuli development, recruitment, data collection, wrote 50% of manuscript; Wilkinson: material/stimuli development, data analysis, wrote 40% of manuscript; Hickerson: material/stimuli development, wrote 10% of manuscript.
Conflict of interest
Erinn H. Finke, Krista M. Wilkinson and Benjamin D. Hickerson declares that they have no conflict of interest.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
About this article
Cite this article
Finke, E.H., Wilkinson, K.M. & Hickerson, B.D. Social Referencing Gaze Behavior During a Videogame Task: Eye Tracking Evidence from Children With and Without ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 47, 415–423 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2968-1
- Social referencing