International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Chindren with ASD Do Not Spontaneously Integrate Facial Expression and Gaze Direction

Chindren with ASD Do Not Spontaneously Integrate Facial Expression and Gaze Direction

Friday, May 16, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
H. Akechi , The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
A. Senju , School of Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Y. Kikuchi , The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
Y. Tojo , Ibaraki University, Ibaraki, Japan
H. Osanai , Musashino Higashi Gakuen, Japan
T. Hasegawa , The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
Background: Recent studies with typically developing (TD) individuals demonstrated that the processing of facial expressions is affected by the valence of other social cues such as eye gaze direction (e.g. Adams & Kleck, 2003). In contrast, our previous study has demonstrated that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were not affected by gaze direction when they encode the facial expressions of emotion. However, since individuals with ASD are known to fixate less on others’ eyes, it is still unknown whether children with ASD fail to integrate these social cues in a task that helps them to attend to the eyes of the stimuli.
Objectives: To investigate whether children with ASD integrate facial expression and gaze direction from the eye region of the face stimuli.

Methods: Participants consisted of 10 children with ASD (mean age 12.3; range 10-16) and 10 TD children (mean age 11.3; range 10-14), who were matched on IQ. The eye regions of the faces displaying anger or fear were presented for the participants, and they were asked to discriminate the facial expressions. The gaze direction of the stimuli were either directed toward the participant or laterally averted.
Results: Gaze direction of the stimuli modulated the speed of facial expression discrimination in TD children. However, the performance of children with ASD was not affected by the gaze direction of the stimuli. These results replicated our previous study, which used the whole face as the stimuli.
Conclusions: Results suggest that children with ASD do not spontaneously integrate affective or communicative valence of facial expression and gaze direction, even when they attend to others’ eyes.

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