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Volume 23 Issue 1 (January 2020), Pages

Out of mind, out of sight? Investigating abnormal face scanning in autism spectrum disorder using gaze‐contingent paradigm

Abstract Diminished social motivation is hypothesized to explain abnormal face scanning pattern in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), especially reduced eye‐looking time in ASDs than typically developing (TD) people. Here, we tested an alternative explanation that children with ASD may use a compensatory strategy to avoid direct eye contact by processing the eyes through peripheral vision. We compared the face scanning patterns of children with and without ASD in two conditions: in the clear condition, the face was completely visible; in the blur condition, by using the gaze‐contingent paradigm, the whole face was blurred except for a small region being fixated at, thus children could not rely on the peripheral information to process the eyes. We found that children with ASD fixated less on the eyes than TD children in both conditions. Temporal‐course analyses further revealed the possible motivation‐based guidance of attention to process the eyes in the TD group but not in the ASD group. Additionally, we found that children with ASD scanned faces more randomly and less strategically than TD children. These results have ruled out the alternative hypothesis that the abnormal face scanning pattern in ASDs was due to their compensatory strategy to process eyes through peripheral vision, furthering our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their abnormal face scanning.

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