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Sensitivity to Eye Gaze in Autism (Nation & Penny)

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McGill University
PSYC 213
Jelena Ristic

SENSITIVITY TO EYE GAZE IN AUTISM: IS IT NORMAL? IS IT AUTOMATIC? IS IT SOCIAL? K. NATION & S. PENNY [purpose of review - determine the circumstances that people with autism may show dec. sensitivity to eye gaze information] AUTISM: neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by unusual repetitive and stereotypical behaviors joint visual attention - capacity to share attention with social partners in a coordinated way - deficit in the development of joint visual attention is one of the earliest behavioral manifestations of autism SPONTANEOUS GAZE FOLLOWING IN TYPICAL DEVELOPMENT AND AUTISM typical development (TD) timeline of spontaneous gaze following • 2 months - preferentially scan the eye region of the face • 4 months - able to discriminate gaze direction • 6 months - readily orient attention to an object being looked at by another person (only it is inside their visual field) • 9-10 months - follow head-turn and gaze shifts spontaneously, readily orient attention to an object being looked at by another person (inside & outside their visual field) • 18 months - able to follow eye gaze precisely, regardless of the target's distance/location [ASD is rarely diagnosed before 24 months] retrospective study - analyzed first birthday videos • results: children later diagnosed with autism spent less time looking at faces Q. Can children with autism discern where other people are looking? (Leekam et al. 1997) • yes - able to compute eye direction (same performance as TD) ⁃ however; ASD poor at monitoring gaze, do not spontaneously orient towards gaze direction development of spontaneous gaze following behavior is delayed & linked to mental age (Leekam et al. 2000) - ASD: mental age (verbal & non-verbal) was a sig. predictor of performance at baseline, and highly correlated with number of correct trials in observation - mental age 4 years : associated with the ability to follow eye gaze and head turn in a laboratory setting (vs. TD: 10-11months) Leekam et al. summary: • non-autistic children with developmental delays: eye gaze following behaviors emerge in line with age (regardless of develop. level) • ASD: both chronological age & mental age are important factors for the development of gaze following behaviors ⁃ in a complex/real-life environment, a mental age of 4 years may not be enough to show gaze-following behavior WHAT UNDERLIES DELAYS IN SPONTANEOUS GAZE FOLLOWING IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM?proposed explanations for the developmental delay of spontaneous gaze and head turn: 1. cognitive approach ⁃ children with autism fail to interpret gaze/head movement as an index of intentionality ⁃ TOM: gaze following does not mean you understand the other person's mental state 2. contingency and learning from experience ⁃ gaze following behavior is learned from the pairing of gaze/head- turn cue and a rewarding target (classical conditioning) and/or a contingency between following another person's head turn and a rewarding event (operant conditioning) ⁃ half of children with autism improved significantly on a conditioned head turn procedure (*but how sustainable is it?) 3. lack of social attention ⁃ lack of social attention despite intact general attention (mixed results & lack of clinical control groups) ⁃ or deficits could be due to a general problem in disengaging attention from one stimulus and shifting it to another REFLEXIVE ATTENTIONAL CUEING: METHODS AND TYPICAL DEVELOPMENT posner-style spatial cueing paradigm: picture of a face is shown (with eyes diverted to the left/right - the cue), then the subject must identify a target stimulus which appears towards the gaze direction (valid location) or opposite to the gaze direction (non-valid location)validity effect: adults are faster to detect a stimulus in the valid location (stimulus & gaze are in the same direction) • even when the cue is uninformative and non-predictive, subjects show a validity effect • stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) range 105 ms - 1000 ms • seen in infants as young as 4 months conclusion: tendency to orient attention towards eye gaze is reflexive IS REFLEXIVE ORIENTING TO EYE GAZE INTACT IN AUTISM? experiment (Senju et al 2004) • counter-informative cue was given to cue stimulus (cue was invalid for 80% of trials); subjects were explicitly informed of this fact • children with autism show a comparable validity effect to eye gaze orienting • suggests that abnormalities with reflexive attentional orient to
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