Objectives: The current study aimed to identify the neural substrates underlying gaze perception in ASD.
Methods: Functional MRI data were collected from typically developing and ASD adolescents during presentation of neutral faces with either direct or averted eye gaze. Participants were all male and between 14 to 20 years of age. Eye-tracking data was also collected in a separate session to ensure that participants were looking at the eye region of the face and to examine whether gaze direction in the stimulus affected patterns of gaze behavior in participants.
Results: When comparing faces with averted gaze to faces with direct gaze, typical individuals showed activity within the STS, an area important for interpreting intentions from biological motion or implied motion, as well, as the temporal parietal junction (TPJ), which is involved in reasoning about the content of another person's mind. The ASD group, however, did not show differences in either of these social-cognitive areas. Rather, differences between conditions were localized to posterior cortical areas.
Conclusions: These data reveal impairments in the neural bases of gaze perception in adolescents with ASD.