According to a new eye-tracking study of 162 participants, people with autism do not divert their attention in the same way non-autistic people do, which is mostly due to social cues.
The researchers gathered data from people aged six to 63, 122 with autism, and 40 without autism. Each participant watched short videos of two actors conversing while performing mundane chores, such as making dinner, who also shifted their eye focus from each other to the task.
From this video, the researchers tracked the time in which the participants spent focusing on the actors’ bodies and heads, the activity itself, and the background.
Eye-tracking discovered that non-autistic people moved their eyes parallel to where the actors were looking, whereas the autistic people did not.
Researchers say this study enabled them to develop knowledge on what encourages social attention in autistic people and also leads to a possible biological marker which could estimate autistic traits across a person’s lifespan.
Previous studies have shown that when autistic people look at images, they usually spend less time looking at people’s faces and other stimuli, but rather focus on the non-social elements of the scene.
According to researchers, this difference may be because autistic people are less likely to gather information from social stimuli.
Both the children and adults with autism spent more time looking at the activity performed rather than the actors’ faces. Plus, these behaviours are said to change with age, as autistic toddlers spent less time looking at the activity.
Professor of translational neurodevelopment at Birkbeck, University of London, Emily Jones, says this research “suggests that the same stimuli are useful in terms of distinguishing the groups, even though the differences change with development.”
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