International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): PROCESSING OF SOCIAL AND NON-SOCIAL STIMULI IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM


Friday, May 16, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
L. Sepeta , Clinical Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
M. Dapretto , Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
S. Bookheimer , UCLA Dept. of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
M. Sigman , Psychiatry and Psychology, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Research suggests that while typically developing (TD) individuals process social (e.g., faces) and nonsocial stimuli (e.g., objects) differently, individuals with autism (ASD) process both stimuli in a similar manner. Objectives: To investigate the visual processing patterns of social (happy and fearful faces) vs. non-social (houses) stimuli in individuals with ASD compared to a TD group. We hypothesized that ASD individuals would show similar fixation patterns for both the social and nonsocial stimuli, while the TD group would prefer the social stimuli and fixate differently for faces with different emotional expressions (happy and fear). Methods: A group of high-functioning individuals with ASD (n=10; age 8-19) and a matched TD group (n=10) viewed blocked presentations of houses and faces (happy and fearful). Using an eye-tracking device, looking times and fixation patterns for the stimuli were compared within and between the two groups. Results: Preliminary results indicate that ASDs did not differ in fixation patterns for social and non-social stimuli. Between group analyses showed that ASDs looked less at faces (p<.01), particularly the eyes (p<.05) than TDs. Suprisingly, TDs spent more time looking at houses than faces (p<.01). TD fixation patterns differed across emotions. TDs looked more at the eyes for fearful faces (p<.05) and at the mouth for happy faces (p<.05). No feature fixation differences were seen across emotions in ASDs. Both groups spent more time looking at faces for fearful compared to happy expressions (TD: p<0.001; ASD: p<.05). Overall, ASDs focused more on details presented on the right side of the screen rather than the left (p<.001), which was not seen in TDs. Further investigation will include analyzing the sequential scan paths for each group. Conclusions: These findings suggest that the ASD and TD groups may process social stimuli differently, and the ASD group displays atypical fixation patterns in general.
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