Visual Scanning of Faces in Autism

Abstract

The visual scanpaths of five high-functioning adult autistic males and five adult male controls were recorded using an infrared corneal reflection technique as they viewed photographs of human faces. Analyses of the scanpath data revealed marked differences in the scanpaths of the two groups. The autistic participants viewed nonfeature areas of the faces significantly more often and core feature areas of the faces (i.e., eyes, nose, and mouth) significantly less often than did control participants. Across both groups of participants, scanpaths generally did not differ as a function of the instructions given to the participants (i.e., “Please look at the faces in any manner you wish.” vs. “Please identify the emotions portrayed in these faces.”). Autistic participants showed a deficit in emotion recognition, but this effect was driven primarily by deficits in the recognition of fear. Collectively, these results indicate disorganized processing of face stimuli in autistic individuals and suggest a mechanism that may subserve the social information processing deficits that characterize autism spectrum disorders.

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Correspondence to Kevin A. Pelphrey.

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Pelphrey, K.A., Sasson, N.J., Reznick, J.S. et al. Visual Scanning of Faces in Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 32, 249–261 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016374617369

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  • Face processing
  • autism
  • eye movements
  • visual scanpaths
  • social perception