Skip to main content

Social attention biases in adults with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders: selecting and following eye-gaze and arrow cues in real-world scenes

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
[Background] Despite obvious impairments in following another person’s eye-gaze during social interactions, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) show typical gaze-following on standard attention tasks. Most attention tasks do not differentiate gaze-selection (focusing on someone’s eyes) and gaze-following (following another person’s gaze) components of social attention and may not be sensitive to ASD differences. [Aims] The goal of this study was to first effectively characterize attention orienting during gaze-following in adults with typical development (TD) and then explore any relative differences in individuals with ASD. Participants were allowed to select cues in a manner that revealed their priorities. In particular, biases for eye-gaze vs. arrow cues were compared using a flicker task to present real-world scenes. [Results] In Experiment 1 when participants were shown either eyes or an arrow, TD adults demonstrated no preference for gaze-following over arrow-following, suggesting that single cues do not reveal biases. In Experiment 2 TD participants viewed competing eyes and arrows and showed an initial preference for gaze-following. As the task progressed, gaze-following diminished, suggesting that the behavior may be susceptible to conscious influence. Experiment 3 involved a forced choice response after variable durations of viewing the scene (i.e. short, medium, long) in order to examine the time course of gaze-following. Eyes were selected at short viewing durations, followed at medium durations, and re-selected at long durations. A different pattern was found for arrows, suggesting that they are attended differently. In Experiment 4, the visual saliency of arrows was reduced and arrows were no longer followed; arrow following may rely upon visual saliency, whereas gaze-following likely relies upon social saliency. In Experiment 5, gaze-following was examined in adolescents and young adults with and without ASD. Performance of participants with ASD differed from comparisons in two ways, they: 1. showed no preference to select eyes over arrows and, 2. did not follow eye-gaze. [Conclusion] Findings suggest that TD adults prioritize eyes and then have a flexible bias to follow another person’s eye-gaze. Preliminary ASD findings suggest that within the context of a flicker task eyes are neither prioritized nor followed. Implications for research methodology are discussed.
Copyright statement
Copyright is held by the author.
The author granted permission for the file to be printed and for the text to be copied and pasted.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Iarocci, Grace
Member of collection
Download file Size
etd8416_ARombough.pdf 3.33 MB

Views & downloads - as of June 2023

Views: 16
Downloads: 0