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Altered gaze following during live interaction in infants at risk for autism: An eye tracking study
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
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2016 (English)In: Molecular Autism, ISSN 2040-2392, Vol. 7, 12Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: The ability to follow gaze is an important prerequisite for joint attention, which is often compromised in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The direction of both the head and eyes provides cues to other people's attention direction, but previous studies have not separated these factors and their relation to ASD susceptibility. Development of gaze following typically occurs before ASD diagnosis is possible, and studies of high-risk populations are therefore important. Methods: Eye tracking was used to assess gaze following during interaction in a group of 10-month-old infants at high familial risk for ASD (high-risk group) as well as a group of infants with no family history of ASD (low-risk group). The infants watched an experimenter gaze at objects in the periphery. Performance was compared across two conditions: one in which the experimenter moved both the eyes and head toward the objects (Eyes and Head condition) and one that involved movement of the eyes only (Eyes Only condition). Results: A group by condition interaction effect was found. Specifically, whereas gaze following accuracy was comparable across the two conditions in the low-risk group, infants in the high-risk group were more likely to follow gaze in the Eyes and Head condition than in the Eyes Only condition. Conclusions: In an ecologically valid social situation, responses to basic non-verbal orienting cues were found to be altered in infants at risk for ASD. The results indicate that infants at risk for ASD may rely disproportionally on information from the head when following gaze and point to the importance of separating information from the eyes and the head when studying social perception in ASD.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 7, 12
Keyword [en]
Autism; Gaze following; Joint attention; Early development; Neurodevelopmental disorders; Social cognition; Communication; Younger siblings
National Category
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-275580DOI: 10.1186/s13229-016-0069-9ISI: 000368885200001PubMedID: 26819699OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-275580DiVA: diva2:900549
Funder
Swedish Research Council, 259-2012-24Swedish Research Council, 2015-03670Swedish Research Council, 523-2009-7054Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P12-0270:1Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, NHS14-1802:1EU, European Research Council, 312292
Available from: 2016-02-04 Created: 2016-02-04 Last updated: 2017-11-30Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Joint Attention in Development: Insights from Children with Autism and Infant Siblings
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Joint Attention in Development: Insights from Children with Autism and Infant Siblings
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Compared to other children, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are known to engage less in joint attention - the sharing of attention between two individuals toward a common object or event. Joint attention behaviors - for example gaze following, alternating gaze, and pointing - play an important role in early development, as they provide a foundation for learning and social interaction. Study I and Study II focused on infant siblings of children with ASD. These infants, often termed high risk (HR) infants, have an increased probability of receiving a later ASD diagnosis. Studying them therefore allows for the detection of early signs of ASD. Live eye tracking was used to investigate different joint attention behaviors at 10 months of age. Study I showed that omitting the head movement that usually accompany experimenters’ eye gaze shifts in similar designs reduced gaze following performance in the HR group, but not in a group of infants at low risk (LR) for ASD. HR infants may thus be less sensitive to eye information, or may need more salient cues in order to follow gaze optimally. Study II focused on the infants’ tendency to initiate joint attention by alternating their gaze between a person and an event. LR infants engaged more in alternating gaze than HR infants, and less alternating gaze in infancy was associated with more ASD symptoms at 18 months. This relation remained when controlling for visual disengagement and general social interest in infancy. Study III explored the role of joint attention later in development, by investigating the microstructure of the looking behaviors of autistic and typically developing children (~6 years old). The results indicated that seeing somebody look at an object influenced the processing of that object less in autistic children than in the typically developing controls. Both groups followed gaze effectively, suggesting that differences in joint attention at this age may be subtle, but detectable with eye tracking technology. Together, the studies contribute to our understanding of the role that joint attention atypicalities play both in the early development of infants at risk for ASD, and later in the development of children with a confirmed diagnosis.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2017. 91 p.
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 145
Keyword
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Joint Attention, Gaze following, Alternating gaze, Social cognition, Eye tracking, Infant siblings
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-327117 (URN)978-91-513-0020-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-09-22, Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-08-31 Created: 2017-08-05 Last updated: 2017-09-08

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