International Meeting for Autism Research: Eye Gaze Patterns In Children with and without Autism During Social Exclusion

Eye Gaze Patterns In Children with and without Autism During Social Exclusion

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
2:00 PM
D. R. Sugrue, D. Z. Bolling, A. C. Voos, E. S. MacDonnell, H. Seib and K. A. Pelphrey, Child Study Center, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Background: Prior research has demonstrated that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit both impairments in social cognition and atypical eye gaze patterns to social stimuli. However, researchers have not examined the eye gaze patterns of children with an ASD while they are being socially excluded. Cyberball is a virtual ball toss game that has been used to examine the effects of social exclusion on individuals with and without an ASD. No studies have evaluated gaze patterns in the dynamic social situation of Cyberball. Based on the reported atypical eye gaze behavior of individuals with ASD in social situations, it is hypothesized that these participants will reference the faces of the other players less frequently during exclusion than typically developing (TD) children. 

Objectives: We are investigating eye gaze behavior of children with and without an ASD while playing Cyberball by examining the frequency with which both groups direct eye gaze to the faces of the other players, and whether the number of fixations is modulated by inclusion and exclusion. We are also examining individual differences in social responsiveness and autistic traits in relation to eye gaze behavior. 

Methods: Participants play Cyberball, in which they are excluded and included in alternating blocks by two other virtual players whom they believe to be real opponents on the Internet. During inclusion the participant receives the ball on one third of the throws. During exclusion the participant does not receive the ball at all. The number of fixations directed toward the pictures of the other players during both inclusion and exclusion is recorded using a Tobii T60 XL eye-tracker. After the game, the participant is asked ten questions to assess her/his distress in response to the exclusion. In addition, a Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) and Autistic Traits (AQ) measure on each participant is completed. 

Results: Preliminary results from 6 children with ASD and 2 TD children suggest that on average, the number of fixations TD children make toward the faces of the other players is significantly increased during exclusion versus inclusion. This modulation of gaze patterns is less pronounced in children with ASD. Planned analyses will correlate this data with self-report measures, anticipating relationships between self-reported distress and number of fixations. Correlations between scores on the SRS and AQ in relation to frequency of fixations may also reveal significant relationships between gaze behavior and autistic traits.

Conclusions: We are examining eye gaze behavior of children with and without an ASD in a dynamic social situation where preliminary findings suggest that the frequency with which TD children reference faces of the other players is increased during periods of exclusion. This work has the potential to extend theories of disordered gaze patterns in the viewing of social stimuli in ASD to dynamic, interactive social situations.

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